Monday, June 30, 2008

Things: Installment 4

When I was in the middle of drafting last week's list, I realized that each entry was pretty lengthy. So I decided to break up the list into two so that the post wasn't quite as long.

Things: That Make Me Stop & Think - Part 2

  1. Blessings - When I survey my life as it stands, I am absolutely amazed by the abundance of blessings God has bestowed on me. I come from a solid Christian family who nurtured & encouraged me during my formative years & continues to do so even now. And I am thankful for an easy childhood full of wonderful memories. I have a wonderful husband. Lord knows how he puts up with me. We've had our ups & downs over the last 8 yrs - as every marriage does. But we've come out on top - better and stronger for the struggles. I am blessed with many incredible gifts but none as wonderful as the gift of music. I shudder to think what my life would be like without it. It truly is my lifeblood. Derek & I both have terrific jobs - jobs that allow us to do some wonderful things that we never dreamed possible. It's so nice to be able to help kids go to summer camp or help the choir commission a piece of music or save an animal in a shelter or keep our favorite public Christian radio station on the air. We weren't always able to give to charities & certainly not in the amounts we're able to now. We're able to save money for those "uh-oh" moments. We can drive vehicles that won't leave us stranded. We can vacation. We have a nice house in which to live. So when I survey the list that could continue on & on, I am reminded to take a minute - thanking Our Heavenly Father for faithfully watching over us, for caring for us, and for bestowing His abundant blessings upon us.

  2. The economy - Today's market is tough. I think of it often as I hear the unemployment rates and more & more about people in trouble financially. Boy, it would be tough to be unemployed. Or to be working a minimum wage job. Or to be a single parent. The price of oil puts more & more pressure on an already very stressed market, driving the costs of everything up & up. The recent natural disasters add more pressure. Politics - silly politics - can send the market into a tailspin. What's the answer to our national economic woes? Balanced budget? Sensible spending? Better government? More regulations? Hard to say, in my opinion.

  3. My brother's job - Until my brother became a state trooper, I'm not sure I gave much thought to public safety. It's something easily taken for granted. You're safe at home, safe at work, safe on the road. Not until you hear stories of tragedy do you necessarily remember that someone has to make a sacrifice to keep you safe & sound in all of your comings & goings. When your loved one decides to dedicate his life to public safety, the dangers of the job suddenly become a lot more real. While we don't like to think about it (b/c why think about the bad things?!), each day is a precious gift - each day David leaves for work, he could be leaving for his last day of work. It's just the reality of his job - and none of us likes to dwell on it. Without necessarily setting out to do so, I think, as a family, we're spending more quality time together since David graduated from the academy & took his first duty station. We certainly enjoy hearing his stories ... b/c he has some great stories. And it's nice to know that he really enjoys his job. We also get to spend time with his bosses & co-workers - all who think so very highly of David. We're so very proud of him. And we're so very thankful for each day that he returns home safely.

  4. The US vs. everyone else - Given the state of the market right now, I've thought a lot about US oil consumption. The figures are pretty astounding. For a country with only about 1/3 of the world's supply of oil, we consume 75% of what's on the market. To me, that's just shameful. It made me consider just what makes us such a monstrous consumer. And then I realized that we've developed SO much differently than foreign countries. Think about it. In foreign countries, you have a tight city center with farmland surrounding the city. This development plan allows better mass transit b/c your population is centered in one small area and then the farmland on the outside of the city center provides the raw goods for the citizens within. How did the US develop? Spread out as far & as quickly as possible - giving no regards to transportation or food & durable goods supply. So we, as a nation, are essentially, by design, set up as a nation of consumption rather than production. Now isn't that an interesting concept. Certainly it was not forward-thinking. We were a "me" society from the get-go. And thus, now we're in what seems to be one of the biggest pickles we've faced as a nation where our economic woes are fueled by our lack of planning & push for progress. How would we be faring had we developed in much the same way as our European counterparts - with easy-to-use mass transportation & rich farmland being used to supply food rather than to make the almighty buck? As more and more fields are plowed over to create more and more developments - both residential & commercial - I wonder how we will survive. Do we intend to import everything? Can we really expect to survive in this manner? Has anyone really stopped to think about it? Or are we simply in "progress" mode?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Scrambling

It's T minus five to Ireland. Eek! I know I have plenty of time to get everything together, but I still feel a little frazzled at this point. This week was busy with rehearsals, so I didn't have much time to do anything else. Today I've vacuumed almost all of the house & later I'm doing some last-minute trip shopping with mom. Then I'm getting my hair done (my grey hair is getting ridiculous!) so I'll look good in photos. =) Poor Derek is working all weekend b/c they're now short a person who was supposed to be on call this weekend. If he's done working in time, we're supposed to go to a work function tonite.

Tomorrow's crammed full of things - two church services, a consultation about a wedding I'll be singing in late July, Father's Day w/ dad, and David's birthday/welcome-home party. Whew. Somewhere in there I really DO have to start packing. I like to pack & re-pack about seven times until I get it just right. =)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

State Mourns "Gentleman" Judge

MISTER JUSTICE BAKER, 1931-2008: A TRIBUTE
Texas Supreme Court: Osler McCarthy, staff attorney for public information
June 23, 2008

Austin, TX - Two weeks ago when Austin visitors came to check on former Justice James A. Baker, he smiled when he was told he looked good. His face was drawn, his frame a fraction of what it was only months before.

“That’s kind of you, Mr. McCarthy,” he said.

He called everyone by name with a courtesy title around the Court. Everyone.

Mr. Justice Baker was not so much a throwback to Southern gentility. He was born in Indiana, after all, although reared in Dallas. But Jim Baker – his lifelong friends called him Jaime – was courteous.

Devoted to the law and fiercely independent. And more than anything to his friends and colleagues, he was gracious.

He died Sunday. He was 77, and much too young.

“Justice Baker was one of a kind,” Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson said, “a gentleman, a scholar, a man of deep faith. He was principled and compassionate in his work – and was entirely devoted to his wife, Clauda. The State of Texas was fortunate to have such a loyal public servant. The entire Court family mourns his loss.”

Services will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, 3821 University Blvd. in Dallas. Besides his wife, he leaves two daughters, Carroll Baker of Dallas and Catherine Lassetter of Houston, and three grandchildren.

Texas appellate lawyers knew him, on the Court and off, at his steadfast position in the third or fourth row at almost every continuing legal education seminar on appeals.

In the days when he was helping make Texas law, he was there to study it.

In the days after he retired from the Court, he was there to study it.

James A. Baker was appointed to the Court by then-Gov. George W. Bush in 1995 after more than eight years on the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas. He kept his Supreme Court seat in 1996 and retired August 31, 2002, in large part because, if he had run for re-election, he would have reached mandatory retirement age midway through his second term.
Eligible to retire, then, he instead joined what was then Dallas law firm Hughes & Luce LLP (now K&L Gates) as head of its appellate practice group. Even after diagnosed with cancer last year, and even after the cancer crept through his body, his lungs, his legs, his spine, Mr. Justice Baker went to work.

“Jim Baker was a judge’s judge,” retired Chief Justice Tom Phillips said. “He was dedicated, hard-working, and eminently fair. He set a high standard for his own work ethic and expected it from his colleagues as well.

“We invented a verb at the Court for what happened to the opinion drafts that each justice would circulate to the other justices for comment – they would come back ‘Bakerized’ – covered with suggested rewrites, expositions on Texas law and organizational critiques – all in precise, red-ink block printing.”

He railed against unnecessary prepositional phrases and other common devices of the writer working on content perhaps at the expense of brevity and clarity.

But as a justice he was much more than a grammar stickler.

“He was what a judge should be,” said former Justice Deborah Hankinson.

“He decided cases as they should be decided, on the record and never from an agenda, politics or for special interests. He was principled and played by the rules. He inspired confidence in the courts because of that.”

Justice Baker graduated from Highland Park High School (named distinguished alumnus in 1998) and from Southern Methodist University (class of 1953) and SMU Law School (’58, distinguished alumnus 2004).

He was a name partner in two Dallas firms from the time he graduated from law school until he founded the Law Office of James A. Baker in 1979. Justice Baker was elected to the Fifth Court of Appeals in 1986 and served on it from 1987 to October 3, 1995, when he joined the Texas Supreme Court.

Perhaps his greatest advocacy was in his strict adherence to standards for mandamus and appellate review, Justice Hankinson said. “He believed people needed to have standards and they should be applied to all....

“He thought those words meant something and people were entitled to have them applied fairly.”

When he began his Court tenure in 1995, he began calling his administrative assistant, Linda Smith, Mrs. Smith.

Of course. He was formal, but hardly stiff.

“No one here had ever called me Mrs. Smith,” she said. “Because communication was easy, I assured him that Linda was all right and at the Court all the staff used first names, except in respect to the justices.” But he never varied.

“Several weeks passed and he related a story that he and ‘Mrs. Baker’ shared, continually referred to her as Mrs. Baker. If ‘Mr. Justice Baker’ called his wife of several decades Mrs. Baker, there was no chance I would become Linda.”

Mrs. Smith became a friend and part of his family, as did so many on the Court, especially his law clerks and staff attorneys.

He swore in Deputy Clerk Jessica Hamby when she began with the Court in 2001, working two floors below the justices’ chambers and often out of their perspective. “Even after he left the Court and he would stop by for a visit or to drop something off, he would always remember who I was. He was a kind soul.”

His last day in his Dallas office was Friday. Doctors had determined the experimental cancer treatment was not working.

Mr. Justice Baker died in his sleep Sunday afternoon.


DMN obituary

Monday, June 23, 2008

WiiFITness Challenge: Week 3

I feel like this is the slowest process EVER. Ugh. Haven't really gotten anywhere. But one of my co-workers pointed out I could be trading fat for muscle, which, as you know, weighs more than fat. So yeah. I'm going with that since the scale has gone up & then back down but not really marking any progress in the direction of my goal weight.

Susan
21.87 BMI / 118.8 lbs / WFA 31

Things: Installment 3

My trip to Memphis gave me reason to pause & ponder. So this week's Things Series is a bit more serious & soul-searching in nature.

Things: That Make Me Stop & Think
  1. St. Jude's Childrens Research Hospital- While in Memphis, I was able to tour this amazing facility. It was founded by Danny Thomas. In the beginning of his career, he knelt at a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, & asked for guidance. At that point in his life, he had no money, no job, no hope. Soon after, Danny's career in comedy took off. Much time passed and Danny passed another statue of St. Jude & remembered his earlier plea for guidance. Being thankful for the guidance and the resulting success, Danny vowed to build a shrine to St. Jude. And so the idea to build a hospital devoted to catastrophic childhood illnesses took shape. What stands in Memphis today is a 70+ acre campus that leads the world in research of childhood diseases. The facility costs more than $400 million a year to operate. And 100% of that $400 million is donated (not a single grant of any kind). All it takes to get treated at St. Jude? A phone call from the child's doctor. From the time the child steps foot in the hospital, one claim is filed on insurance, assuming the family has a policy with a cancer clause with no deductible, and from that moment forward the family owes nothing. NOTHING. St. Jude's provides treatment, medicine, housing, food, weekly allowances for incidentals, childcare for siblings. Everything. And once you're a patient of St. Jude, you're ALWAYS a patient of St. Jude. That's right. Even if you have a recurrence in adulthood. Even for check-ups. You'll never stop being a patient of St. Jude. And your care continues at no cost. Know what else is amazing? The hospital is HAPPY! It's a happy place. Danny Thomas knew that laughter was an excellent medicine. And he wanted his hospital to induce that healing laughter. Every single mural in that hospital is happy. Everything smiles - the animals, the flowers, the sun, the moon. If you can paint a face on it, it has a smile on it. The ceilings also have happy murals. Why? Because a lot of the patients are toted around in wagons or on gurneys, which means they're lying on their backs. What do they see? The ceiling. So naturally, happy things smile down on them from the ceilings, as well. This is such an amazing place. And it's one I hope to keep open for a very long time. What a legacy Danny Thomas has left behind. What a testament to "it takes one person to change the world." Danny Thomas continues to change the world - one child at a time.
  2. Cancer - Touring St. Jude really brought home the frailty of life. Sure, we all know that we will one day pass away. We refuse to acknowledge the reality that it could be today. Or simply sooner than we can imagine. At least, I know that I do. And scientifically, the number of us who will be claimed by cancer is really quite staggering. I certainly am aware of my familial risks, and I do my best to take steps to (a) prevent the disease altogether and/or (b) go for regular check-ups so the disease is caught early. This is driven home everytime I hear that someone has received a cancer diagnosis. Most importantly, though, St. Jude made me stop, take inventory, be thankful, plan, and prepare. Do you treat each day as if it's your last? Telling those loved ones that you love them? It's easy to take that for granted, thinking there's always the next time. Do you stop & give thanks for the many blessings in your life? Your friends, your family, your health, your stable living? These are also things that we become so accustomed to that we forget they are gifts. So I hope that these small lessons I've gleaned will continue to stay atop my checklist - be thankful, take nothing for granted, and tell your loved ones how much they mean to you.
  3. Celiac Disease - Until my mom received her diagnosis about a month ago, I didn't know that much about celiac disease. What little I did know I'd learned from my friend SarahJ. Needless to say, it's been a learning experience as I've helped mom compile helpful links and recipes and information about the disease & how to cope. You just don't realize how our food supply is inundated with gluten. It's really overwhelming. And finding safe, tasty alternatives can be challenging when you don't live in a major metropolitan area. Interestingly enough, one of the kids who went on the Memphis tour is a celiac. It was nice to be able to help him make wise decisions (when his mom wasn't hovering over his shoulder) when he ended up in my group at mealtimes. And I visited with him very briefly about it (teenage boys aren't big talkers). Surprisingly, CD is quite common (though not nearly as common as it is in Italy & Ireland), but few people are properly diagnosed. B/c CD is genetic, there is a possibility that my brother & I could currently have it or develop it in the future. And this has made me pay greater attention to all the minute details. While CD is not a life-threatening disease persay, it is nonetheless life-altering. I suppose you can compare its risks to that of hypertension. In & of itself not necessarily dangerous, but over time, it can really do major damage. Have you given much thought to these types of diseases? How would you cope?
  4. Studio session - I was in the studio this weekend cutting a cd. What makes this particularly interesting & thought-provoking is the why. I recorded what's become known at my house as the 'funeral cd.' My grandmother has long been bugging me about recording songs that could be played at her funeral. And it makes sense. Think about how hard it would be to hold it together & actually sing well. A cd is certainly a good idea. But lately she's become a little more insistent about the cd. I think the 10-day trip to Ireland has really made it a more urgent request. You see, my grandfather has been in the nursing home the last several years (combination of Alzheimer's & Parkinson's makes care at home impossible). While he's doing fine, all things considered, he's certainly becoming more & more frail. Each minor illness takes a little more of the spark and he just doesn't bounce back to where he was before. So the cd is insurance that I can sing at the funeral, if that should happen, Heaven forbid, while I'm in Ireland. And, one step further, it's insurance that I can sing at anyone's funeral without having to appear in person. And why not record those favorites now while I'm in the prime of my voice? It's just an odd thing to ponder. Talks of the cd & what songs to put it on it have made me come to grips with the fact that my grandparents are aging. Sure, we celebrate birthdays. But we don't often digest what those birthdays really mean. You think your grandparents will live forever. But at some point, you have to swallow the reality that they won't.
  5. Teenagers - After spending five days with teenagers, I was thrown back to my days of youth. Funny enough, my charges asked me about growing up. 'What was it like being a teenager?' A lot different than it is now. Which made me feel SO much more like a grown-up. Ugh. As I grow farther & farther away from the days of my childhood, I'm beginning to feel like my parents must have felt when I was a teen. First, you wonder when they're ever going to lose the head-spinning, fang-toting, I-know-everything attitudes. (Though the kids on the trip were pretty good even in this respect.) Then, you wonder when things are ever going to slow down. These kids are FAR busier than I could have ever dreamed to be at that age. I don't know how they sleep! You wonder if the shorts will get any longer. The bathing suits anymore modest. The issues facing them any less complicated. Things were SO different for me as a teen. Sure, there were sex, drugs, & rock-n-roll. But it seems like those things are so much MORE pervasive now. Or is it just me? Can't we go back to the 50s? Things were so much simpler then. Progress for the sake of progress isn't really progress at all - that makes so much more sense now.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Definition

Stupid Criminals =

A 19-year-old man accidentally shot and killed himself Tuesday morning while attempting to rob a Grand Prairie home, authorities said. Cameron Sands of Fort Worth kicked in the door of the house and shot himself in the stomach as he pulled a gun out of his pants to shoot the homeowner, police said. The homeowner was not injured. After Sands shot himself, he dropped the gun and fled. Police found his body about 5:30 a.m., a Grand Prairie police spokesman said.
-DMN staff writer

Birthday Wishes



HAPPY BIRTHDAY
to my brother!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lists, Lists, and More Lists

I'm a habitual list-maker. Yep. It's true. I admit it. Sometimes I take a list & start all over making the same list. Why? Probably b/c it wasn't organized quite right. Or b/c it looked messy. Or (gasp) b/c I'd lost the original. When I was handwriting all of my lists, this amounted to lots & lots of pieces of paper. But I've started keeping lists in spreadsheets. (Insert eye roll from a lot of you. I know.) This is great for the grocery list b/c we buy mostly the same items every month so it's not reinventing the wheel every time grocery day comes around. There are the random items we don't buy often, of course, like detergent & fabric softener, but it's a real time-saver for the common items, like breakfast bars & milk. But I digress.

It won't come as a shock to you when I tell you I've started the spreadsheet for the Ireland trip. Just 15 days to go-day. It likely won't surprise you to know that my list is also organized by type of baggage (checked/carry-on/purse) & what goes on top or in side pockets of each bag. I've learned it's much easier to pack those must-scan-separately-at-security items so they're easy to access & put away. So by organizing my list in this way, it keeps me from packing & unpacking & repacking once I've realized I've put something on the bottom of the bag that should be on the top or in a side pocket. Sure, it's anal. But welcome to my world!

I've already scrapped the list twice & started over. It just wasn't working for me. Plus, we've had a few organizational meetings & I've gotten more info about weather & climate that have affected my packing list. Or they've reminded me of things I wasn't planning to bring but should or items that should stay home. We had the final trip meeting on Sunday, which is the last day that I scrapped my list & started over. I have a much better (and very organized) list now. Plus I have worksheets for things I need to buy & things I need to do before I leave (like leaving copies of itinerary, etc. for Derek & writing up his flying instructions).

I'm really starting to get excited about this trip. It's going to be so much fun & the weather is going to be really nice compared to here - with highs in the 60s & lows in the 50s. It'll rain, but we're prepared for that.

As an added bonus, mom & I have discovered that the two countries in the world with the highest incidences of celiac disease are Italy & IRELAND. 1:300 people there are celiacs. So needless to say, the entire country is celiac friendly! Whoop! That means mom only has to pack snacks for the planeride over & the rest she can buy while in Ireland proper. AND she can enjoy eating with the group without worrying (too much) about being glutened.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

WiiFITness Challenge: Week 2

Okay. So I wasn't FITing last week. Obv. b/c I was in Memphis. After all that food, I was a little worried about what kind of noises that stinky little board was going to make when I got aboard & a little nervous about what the scale might say. I guess all of that crazy walking all over Memphis helped b/c I didn't gain as much as I thought I might. Anyway, start of this week, here's what it looks like.

Susan
118.2 lbs / 21.75 BMI / WFA 28

Derek
(still haven't looked)

WiiFITness Challenge: Week 1

The evaluation.

So to get started in this whole process, you have to submit yourself to an evaluation of your current status. Yep. You guessed it. You get weighed, measured, & aged. What do I mean? Well, let me just walk you through the process.

First, the WiiBoard introduces itself. I know. Weird, right? Whatev. Get used to it. It tells you lots of things you don't want to hear.

Now that you're all friends with the Board & all, you get to test your balance by keeping the little blue ball in the center of the Board displayed on the screen. The idea is to find your center. Basically, you're figuring out if you have good posture or bad posture. I believe we've already established my bad posture, so we know how I faired on this one.

Then you get to tell the Board a little bit more about yourself. It weighs you, you enter your height & age. The Board then calculates your BMI using a fancy formula that factors in what you've just told it about you. Note: your Mii changes to reflect your weight (underweight, normal, overweight, obese). I point this out b/c Derek was surprised when his Mii got fluffy. =)

Now comes the fun part. Body Control. You take two balance tests. The Board tries to make this a fun game. But in my opinion, it fails miserably! But that's probably just b/c I sucked at the game.

Using all of this information, the Board calculates your Wii Fit Age (WFA). Be forewarned, the balance portion is crucial! I had "normal" everything else, but when I finished the balance portion the Board asked me if I tripped a lot when I walked. Needless to say, you can just call me Grace & my Wii Fit age is pretty pooey.

After all that, it asks you whether you'd like to lose any weight & how long you'd like for it to take. You get a trainer & start on the road to FITness.

So...

Here it is.

Results

Susan
Beginning - 117.5 lbs / 21.62 BMI / WFA 43
Goal - 110.0 lbs

Derek
TBA (I forgot to look his up)

Things: Installment 2

Thanks for joining me for the second installment in the Things Series. My Memphis trip gave me reason to pause & reconsider this week's topic. But ultimately, I decided to stick with my original post & save that one for next week when I've had more time to lay out my thoughts.

So...onward we go.

Things: Not on my List of Favorites

  1. Bad Music. This encompasses a broad array of music. From singers. To genres. To instruments that ruin a song. As a musician & lover of live performance, I've heard & been involved in my fair share of terrible music. Sometimes performances are so bad that they just make me mad. Others are so bad that they're downright comical. Naturally, I prefer to enjoy terrible music with a laugh.
  2. Bad Food. Some people might call me a picky eater. I prefer to be called a selective eater. It's really simple - I like things the way I like them. Aren't we all a little like that?
  3. Bad Attitude. Attitude is everything. How many times did we hear our parents say this? What does it really mean? Until I became an adult, I'm not sure I really understood. But as you gain life experience, you begin to see, to know. Constructive criticism can be given in a way that cuts like a knife or builds & edifies. "Losing" an audition can make you feel like you've lost to someone more suited to the role or in a way that makes you feel the whole process is completely political. Dealing with a perceived wrong can be awkward for everyone if not handled properly - a shoutfest gets you nowhere; a superior persona gets you nowhere; a snippy attitude gets you nowhere. You can have the worst day or week or month or year EVER. But living under that grey cloud doesn't bring the sunshine back. It just makes you unhappy & a sad case to be around. No one likes a downer. In all things, attitude really IS everything.
  4. Bad Kids. To me, there is nothing worse than a brat. You know, the kids who sass their parents, who refuse to listen, who take nothing from being disciplined, who are rude & disrespectful to their elders, who run around like little banshees in inappropriate places (like the grocery store or church). I encounter kids like this more & more these days. Why is that? I have a theory. And it all boils down to discipline - a lack of it.
  5. Bad Drivers. I think we all share this one. What's the big hurry? Why the impatience? Why the rude honking & yelling & the gesturing? We're all gonna get to our appointed destinations at some point. I would personally like to get there safely & stress-free. So get off my bumper & let me drive.
  6. Bad Service. Some people just aren't cut out for the service industry. And I seem to encounter every one of them. It's like I have a big X on my forehead. It seems that our need for speed has meant a sacrifice of good, quality, kind, expedient customer service. Instead you get to wind your way through 30 min of automation before getting a real live butthead on the other end of the line.
  7. Bad Manners. Have manners been banned & I missed the memo? Common courtesy doesn't exist. People with GOOD manners now stand out in the crowd. Sad. Very sad.
  8. Bad Rolemodels. Have you stopped to think about who kids idolize these days? Look at the movie stars. Popular music. Pro sports players. Do you remember a time when we condoned - even glamorized - so much terrible behavior? Sure, go drink - just don't drive. Sure, do drugs - just not the bad ones. Sure, dress sexy - just don't have sex. My teen idols seem tame compared to those of today's youth. Where did the innocence go?
  9. Inferior Products. Have we outsourced EVERYTHING? Do you remember when you could buy something & use it/wear it for more than a year w/out issues? Quality workman/craftsmanship has gone the way of the Almighty Dollar & the how-do-we-make-the-most-while-spending-the-least. Just go in your closet, your garage, your office & see how many products say Made in the USA. You'll be lucky if you find ONE. I watched an episode of "America's Port" on National Geographic. This series focuses on the Port of LA, providing "an insider's look at the port's diverse work force, allowing viewers to practically sit beside crane operators, board a cruise ship, and watch the inner workings of a cargo container vessel." What I took from the series - this one insightful quote from a crane operator: "America's biggest commodity is empty container vessels."
  10. Politics. I really hate our political system. Everything about the system. Do you think it was THIS broken when our forefathers founded this country? I shudder to think. Can it be fixed? My opinion - Nope. I honestly do not believe you can clean it up enough to make it function. We're no longer a country run by The People. We're a country run by The Machine.

Remember, I'd love to hear your lists of Things. Just post a link to your own lists in the comments.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Memphis

On the Road

Tuesday we hit the road bright & early on the tour bus. 16 youth, 9 adults, & the driver - 26 of us altogether. We left the rain behind in Dallas, thankfully. We pulled in to Memphis on schedule round about dinner time. We unloaded the bus, checked into the hotel, freshened up, & hit the sidewalk for dinner. What was supposed to be a short walk was actually about 10 or 12 blocks & much further than any of us were really enthused about after spending the day traveling. But the grumbling ceased as soon as our dinner hit the table at Gus's Fried Chicken. Man. Was that chicken ever good. Salty. Spicy. But YUMMY! We trekked back to the hotel & gave the kids a brief swim time before devotionals at 10:30. I sent my charges to the pool & devos while I took a little nap. They came back a little about 11:30 & had free time until their 1 am curfew. Oh yeah. You read that right. 1 am. I assure you, that was the only night the kids got to stay up that late. We chaperones saw to that. B/c as long as the kids were up, some part of us had to be supervising. Needless to say, the time dropped back significantly. And I think the kids sang better for it. Don't get me wrong, they did their fair share of grumbling about it. In the end, while they may not actually say so, I think they were thankful for the extra rest, especially given the amount of walking we did the rest of the tour!

Day 2: Walking Downtown

Despite the limited amount of sleep the night before, I awoke early. I got up & got ready before the girls ever stirred. Had a nice quiet breakfast in the lobby by myself. I went back upstairs & made sure the girls were up before I headed out for a morning stroll. There was a park close to the hotel so I headed there first. My friend Jana had warned me about the extensive homeless population, but I don't think I was really prepared for it until I met it face-to-face at the park. I took a few quick pictures & then decided a morning walk on my own with camera in tow screaming "I'm a tourist" didn't seem like a good idea. So I headed back to the hotel. Our first stop of the morning was St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Wow. What an incredible facility. We enjoyed a fabulous tour where we learned about the hospital - its ideals, its mission, its outreach, its incredible ministry. For me, this was the most poignant part of the tour. It made me stop & think, stop & appreciate, stop & consider. At some point, I will go into this small portion of our tour in more detail b/c it meant that much to me. From St. Jude, we picked up lunch & headed back to the hotel. We then hopped the monorail for Mud Island. We didn't have a lot of time here, but what we had was certainly plenty. The kids most enjoyed the replica of the Mississippi carved into the concrete. This miniature allowed you to walk from the Mighty Mississippi's mouth all the way to its end. Along the way, there were placards explaining the river's impact on the communities that sprung up on its banks. While the kids enjoyed wading in it, the adults enjoyed the historical lesson the replica provided. From Mud Island, we walked up Front Street for our paddleboat ride aboard the Memphis Queen. I really enjoyed the neat historical information our tour guide provided. The kids enjoyed the nap. From here, the kids had free time for the afternoon until we left for dinner at Rendevous BBQ. Oh wow. That was some terrific bbq - it didn't quite fall off the bone like my father-in-law's does, but the flavor was outstanding. And equally as impressive was the speed with which they processed us through there. Can you believe a group of 26 was in & out in just an hour? Yeah. Neither could we. We headed back to the hotel for devotional & an early night in bed (11:30...yippee).

Day 2: Walking Tour


Today we did 100% of our touring on foot. And it was hot. After breakfast, we hit the road & headed for Beale Street. Some compare Beale Street to The French Quarter. Perhaps that's true. I'm not sure. We went early in the morning, not too long after the nightlife has been put to bed. The kids enjoyed walking down Beale & doing some shopping. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to hear some live music, but as I said, it was way too early for any of that crowd to be walking the streets. From this little excursion we headed to the historic Orpheum Theatre. We had a very knowledgeable tour guide who was just as enthusiastic as the kids. You could tell she really enjoyed the theatre & was sure that the kids enjoyed it just as much. We got to see every facet of the theatre - from the auditorium itself, to the stage, to backstage, to the pit. The kids really enjoyed this stop. From here, it was time for lunch at The Pig on Beale. My friend Jana suggested I try the bbq nachos here. I must admit, I was very skeptical. But I took her word for it - and they were wonderful. But I can't believe I managed to eat the whole plate! We definitely needed a little walking after such a huge lunch. And walk we did. To the Civil Rights Museum. I can't say that any of us were really in the right frame of mind to enjoy this stop on the trip. The kids were hot, tired, & full. Not a good combination when you want them to absorb so much information. And certainly not good for any kind of reflection. But they did at least walk through the exhibit & perhaps took something from it. We left the museum for The Peabody Hotel & the afternoon march of the ducks from their fountain in the lobby back to their habitat on the roof of the hotel. Then it was time for dinner at Huey's. If you asked the kids, this was probably their favorite meal of the entire trip. Why? Well, they got to lob toothpicks at the ceiling - completely encouraged by staff & management. It seems it's a bit of tradition at this restaurant. Dinner is where I parted ways with the group. While they went to a Memphis minor league baseball game (team name escapes me now) & were serenaded by a Christian rock band pre-game show, I met my friend Jana for a glass of wine & a nice visit. It was so great to see her! I met the bus back at the hotel, picked up the group from the baseball game, and we hit the road for Bartlett. The kind folks at BUMC hosted us for two nights in their fabulous facility. The savings on hotel stays allowed us to do so many of the wonderful things we enjoyed while visiting Memphis.

Day 3: Midtown


We got started a little later than we intended due to a little kink involving breakfast. But we finally got on the road & started our day at The Memphis Zoo. The zoo is not as large as the two we enjoy in DFW. However, what it lacks in size, it makes up greatly for in quality. What fabulous exhibits & what terrific care is taken of the facilities. We wished we had more time to spend there. It really was worth it. After a quick bite at the zoo, we headed to Graceland. I'll be honest, I was not in the least bit enthused about visiting. But everyone - from my mom to friends to unexpected co-workers - encouraged me to go "just once." I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The 30-minute audio tour was very informative & I actually enjoyed the brief tour. I wouldn't have wanted anymore time, but I did enjoy my short visit. I even have the t-shirt to prove it! We rushed from Graceland back to the church for a warm-up, quick dinner, & our evening concert. Several have asked why the kids didn't sing more in Memphis proper. Well. I'm sad to say that Bartlett was the only church - of the 30+ we contacted - that extended the invitation. So the kids did most of their singing before leaving DFW (4 performances) & got to attend Bartlett's concert at First UMC Dallas (how ironic). The kids gave a terrific concert in return and it was certainly well-received by all who attended.


On the Road Again

We hit the road early Saturday morning in hopes of getting home a little earlier than scheduled. A portion of our group would be heading out at the wee hours of Sunday morning for a mission trip to New Orleans. The more rest we could give them, the better. So we hit the road with little more than snacks & put about 80 miles between us & Memphis before stopping for breakfast. From there, we stopped as quickly & infrequently as absolutely possible and did manage to arrive home about 7:30 (about 90 min past our mark).

Reflections

When Nicki (the director) asked me to travel with the kids, I agreed but with hesitancy. I remembered the days of my youth & what my group was like back then. Sure, we were good but we were every bit the bunch of "typical teenagers." Everyone assured me that this bunch was good & not to expect much in the way of misbehavior. I, of course, held out for that one in the group. But I have to say that this group of kids is really terrific. Sure, they're typical teenagers in every way. But I felt like they were leaps & bounds better than my group was at that age. We had one minor infraction of the rules that was dealt with swiftly. Otherwise, I can say without reservation that these were some very well-behaved kids, and I would not hesitate to travel with them again. They really were a joy & pleasure to be around.

I would call this trip a success in every way. It was well-organized & well-planned. As in every group trip, you learn things - things you should do again & things to avoid. This trip was no exception. But all in all, the experience was positive & the good things we learned far outweighed the list of things to avoid in the future.

Now I'm glad to be home - in the comfort of my own (Sleep Number) bed!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Survived

I survived 5 days with 16 teenagers. Yeah, I know. Shocking that I went at all. The Memphis Tour was great. Surprisingly, the kids were great. All in all, it was a fun trip full of lots of great memories. Now I'm home staring at my luggage dreaming of a good night's sleep. {Zzzzzzzzzz} Sorry, dozed off there. Susan running on less than the usual 8 hrs/nt for 4 nts = very tired Susan. More on the trip when I've had some rest...maybe tomorrow. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

All's Quiet Till Sunday

I'm in Memphis until Sunday. No posts until I recover. Have a great week!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Yikes!

Derek just called & said the Escape got struck by lightning while he was driving on one of the big flyovers in Dallas. No major damage. Just a blown-out tire. Tires can be replaced!

Things: Installment 1

I've decided I'm going to start a new series of posts - the Things Series. Don't ask me why I'm starting this series. Maybe it's b/c I've thought of random lists of Things that I can write about on a weekly basis. Maybe it's b/c I just want to. Whatev. Henceforth, every Monday I will post a new Things post until I'm all out of things to say - each week we'll have a new topic.

Should you feel inclined to participate, post your own weekly Things List & leave me a comment with the link. I'd love to see your own contributions to the week's list of Things.

On to this week's list.

Things: I Love

  1. Google Reader. Why? B/c it makes it SO much easier to keep up with all the bloggers I've begun reading. My list went from one or two to ... well, A LOT. I still have a few I have to go to on my own (like a few of the restricted ones, i.e. don't allow a Reader subscription), but Google Reader cuts down on the amount of time I spend clicking. And that's a time saver!

  2. The Internet. Okay. This may sound stupid. But do you remember life without the interwebs? I do. And then somewhere along the way, I got hooked. And I've had a few weeks where I couldn't get internet & then I REALLY began to wonder what I ever DID without it! Crazy. I mean, now we've gone so far as catching up with our favorite TV SHOWS through the internet. Some people talk on the phone via the web - I myself am not there yet, but I certainly have done my share of online chatting. Now the internet is my first source for just about everything - maps, recipes, general info, mail, bills, and the list goes on.

  3. Frank Sinatra. Really, I love all big band music, but my first love has been & will always be Ol' Blue Eyes. When I'm in the truck, I'm always tuned in to Siriusly Sinatra. What a great station that is. So much info on Frank & the family & the music & his life. I just love it. (ALMOST makes me want to get satellite in my car...except that I'm not really in it enough to warrant even the $8/mo it would cost me.) {Sigh} Frank may be one of the biggest reasons I love What Women Want so much - he makes up SO much of that soundtrack. And good movies are often made/broken on good soundtracks. I just love his music. Even in his later years when his voice began to suffer, he didn't do the total tank like Elvis did. It was just tired & worn ... like your favorite leather chair.

  4. Odd Veggies. Like lima beans, brussel sprouts, & asparagus. Things that most people just don't care for. The dog also loves these veggies, so we often share veggies at dinner time (she gets her own plate, of course). Growing up, no one would have ever guessed that I'd like these veggies. Shoot. Most people don't believe me now when I tell them. I'm a wee bit particular about my food. So these things would fall in the "least likely foods she will eat" category if anyone were to be keeping a list.

  5. Luxury Autos. Not to sound materialistic. B/c I'm really not. But before I got my Ezmerelda, I used to think that the luxury car drivers who raved about their cars were just blowing a lot of smoke. The cars couldn't REALLY bet that much better than the cars we regular joes were driving. Well, after replacing my Mazda 6 with my Lexus IS250 (in case anyone cared to know the comparison), I'm here to tell ya that there IS a HUGE difference. They're quiet, hug the road, ride SO smooth, have giddety-up, have more safety features (knee airbags, for crying out loud!), have more "fancy" features (HK speaker system, though this is kinda lost on me, but the nifty no-key feature is cool!), to name a few. I'm not sure I'll ever go back to a "regular" car.

  6. Sunsets/Moonrises. I love being outside. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time outside, particularly at the lake (mostly BD (before Derek) & before severe allergies, of course). There's nothing like a sun setting or moon rising over the water. So beautiful. Awe-inspiring. Even now I get to enjoy the random sunset or moonrise - more often when I'm on my way to a rehearsal. There's nothing like the rainbow of colors you get from a sunset. The way it makes you feel. All warm & happy inside. Moonrises are beautiful in a different way. More in its austere glow than in the warmth of its colors. Either way. Both give me reason to pause & be thankful.

  7. Family. Family is SO important to me. I was raised in a tight-knit family & that taught the importance of the family unit. When everyone else turns their back on you, your family doesn't - blood IS thicker than water, after all. My family has always been a constant form of support, encouragement, love, understanding, forgiveness, and wisdom. I honestly cannot imagine my life without family in it. I truly hurt for those who are literally on their own and/or who have never known the love of family. I honestly cannot imagine - how they manage, cope, go on, how alone they must feel. Me against the world? No thanks. Me & my family against the world? Any day of the week!

  8. Friends. To me, my close friends can get lumped in the Family category. Because True Friends are synonymous with family. I'll go to great lengths for my friends, just as I would family. I am blessed with some really wonderful friends. I'm amazed at their generosity, kindness, openness, faithfulness - their willingness to jump to it when called upon. They're there when needed & even when not.

  9. Music. Music has been a huge part of my life from the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I remember songs from my preschool days. My mom taught me to play piano. My church choir director began giving me roles in kids musicals from the tender age of six. From preschool to piano lessons to church choir to band to voice lessons, my love of music has grown exponentially. I am certainly blessed with an inate musical ability. I was a relatively good piano player. I was an even better flute player. But it's singing that really captured my heart and I've always believed it to be my greatest musical gift. But more importantly, music is a gift TO ME - it's calming, soothing, peaceful, meditative ... it's like medicine for my soul.

  10. Faith. While last on the list, it is most important in my life. My faith in my God. Faith in God was a big part of my family life. I was raised in the church. At ten, I accepted this tremendous gift as my own & began my own lifelong walk. My faith has gotten me through some really rough patches. And my faith reminds me to be thankful for my many blessings. Each day is a struggle to be a better disciple than the day before. Some days I'm more successful than others. But in the end when my walk is through, I hope to hear "well done my good and faithful servant."

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cleaning & Packing

Whew. There was a lot to do this weekend! Laundry, cleaning, shopping, planning, preparing, packing. For the most part, I'm ready for my Memphis trip. I got the shopping done so all of the travel-sized stuff is purchased & the first aid kit is assembled. Being a chaperone requires a bit more planning. I'm somebody's mom on this trip. (Shudder) So I had to pack accordingly. Most of the packing is done. I have a few last-minute things to go in the suitcase. And I'm sure that I've once again overpacked. My keep-me-occupied bag is still in the packing stages - there are batteries to be found & charged, movies to be selected & packed, and songs to be downloaded to the iPod. The freezer is stocked so Derek has some things to eat while I'm away, assuming he doesn't eat with the neighbors all week.

Ezmerelda came home from Sewell. And went back to Sewell. (Sigh) When I picked her up on Friday, I got halfway home, stopped for gas, & discovered a NEW scratch on the passenger side door. I called my rep, who was very apologetic, & we made arrangements. A rep brought me a car & took Ez back to Sewell on Saturday. Hopefully that repair is completed today. Otherwise, Derek will have to coordinate the delivery/pick-up. I'm tellin' ya. I really AM beginning to feel like I have a "Scratch Me" sign on that car!

Our new dishwasher came Saturday - whoohoo! Mom & dad came over today to celebrate Derek's birthday & visit. I sweet-talked dad into installing the dishwasher. He & I (with a little help from Skeet & Derek) got it in. I ran a load of dishes last night. It's sooooo quiet - we didn't even notice it was running. And the new tall-tub is so wonderful. I can fit big stuff with NO trouble at all. Plus, you can wash three racks at a time if you want to (I just did two). It has all kinds of nifty features, like sanitize & steam clean. I'm going to love this dishwasher! Thanks, dad, for putting it in.

Other than that, I made a few cards. Oh, and we played on the Wii. We're going to love this new system. Mom & dad played with us some and really seemed to enjoy it too. Wonder if we'll talk them into one? =) I'm not starting the fitness challenge until next Monday since I'll be out-of-town this week. BUT I will post my beginning info tomorrow.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Yuk!

Wanna know what I hate? The harpsichord. Has to be about the most annoying instrument ever made. Seriously. Clunkety-rattly-clunk-chirp. Kinda like a cricket with a peg leg. When WRR decides to play heinous pieces with harpsichord in the middle of my quiet afternoons, I'm afraid someone else gets my ear for the remainder of the day. I know y'all really cared.

Gettin' Fit

We managed to get a WiiFit yesterday, thanks to our friend & neighbor Mike who braved ToysRUs. So we now (I think) have everything we need to get started on our new WiiFITness program. Yahoo! We're joining SarahJ's team for a challenge so we're accountable to a group. Perhaps we'll stick with it this way. Actually, I'm looking forward to it. I've been complaining since we moved from Coppell that I miss the Y there - it was awesome! Great programs/classes. And I was totally in shape b/c I liked going to them all. Can't say that I've done a darn thing for more than a week or two while we've been in our house ... for the LAST FIVE YEARS! Ugh - I'm a slug!! So here's to gettin' FIT.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

EEk!

Do you ever feel like you have a lot to do & not a lot of time to do it? For whatever reason, that's what I've felt like this week. Maybe it's b/c I'm definitely in 'allergy haze,' as I like to call it, which basically means I'm lucky if I remember my name much less what day it is. Scary.

Anyway. The weekend approaches & it's chocked full of things to do. Aside from getting the house clean before leaving town, I really need to spend an entire day in the craft room, but I'm not going to get one of those until I get back from Memphis. Hmmm. Guess all those cards will just have to wait. I'm behind on several birthdays (belated is still better than nothing, right?), a couples' move to 'the Big City' (almost three weeks ago now!), thank you cards for Derek to send out for birthday gifts, etc. At least I have the Father's Day cards done!

We're taking a friend to dinner for his birthday tomorrow night. I hope to get his card done before we go. Naturally, I've picked a complicated double-pocket card (lots of folding here) to fit his two gift certificates. The directions look simple enough, but I've learned that even simple takes me at least an hour!

I have to get a bunch of stuff for my trip to Memphis next week. As a chaperone, I have to lug a little more than I ordinarily would b/c I have to be a traveling medicine cabinet. You know how teenagers are - they're lucky if they remember to attach their brains in the morning! But it's okay. I'd rather have the stuff than not have it ... just in case. And it will likely come in handy for my Ireland trip too. At least I don't have to worry about the 3-oz-or-less rule for Memphis - we're traveling by charter bus instead of plane! Me & the travel aisle of several stores are going to become great friends!

At some point I need to shop for Father's Day gifts. Since we won't be celebrating with either dad until at least the week following, I technically have an extra week or two to shop. But being in Memphis Tues-Sat kinda throws a kink in even that plan. I know the things I want to buy, and they're in the realm of possibility for Derek to handle. So I may leave those items up to him. Hmm. That is a thought.

Sunday we're celebrating Derek's birthday with my parents - complete with his favorite ... chocolate cake. Yum. We'll likely go to dinner too. It's my parents' anniversary on Sunday & they always come into Dallas for a nice dinner.

Off to make some lists.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sucker

I'm such a sucker sometimes.

I have several friends - both online and off - who have been absolutely raving about the new Ninenteno Wii Fit. (Actually, they've all raved about the Wii in general b/c it's totally interactive regardless of what game you're playing.) They all claim that it really is a great workout and totally worth every penny they paid for it.

Derek & I have failed miserably at our getting-to-the-gym routine. The day we went to join our local gym, we couldn't get a rep to give us a tour & sign us up. We haven't been back since. {Hangs head in shame} We've tried walking regularly, but for those of you who don't know anything about Texas, it's bloody HOT this time of year! So needless to say, we haven't been successful in walking frequently either. Plus, my allergies are still on full tilt which means any kind of outside activity a) is limited and/or b) makes me suffer miserably. {Sigh}

Okay, so everyone is raving about the Wii Fit. It might be a good alternative to the gym & the outside activity. That's fine & dandy. But I don't even own a Wii!! So that puts me in a bit of a pickle. Not only would I have to buy the Fit bundle pack, but I would also have to buy the Wii itself. Hmmm. So the big question becomes: Is it economical? Outside activity is free - so long as you don't factor in my misery, whining, & meds. The gym, on the other hand, will cost a minimum of $60/mo. - and for you non-math majors, that's a minimum $720/yr. The Wii bundle with two remotes is about $300. And the Fit bundle (without the $30 yoga mat) is about $90. So for about $400 we can workout in the comfort of our air-conditioned home complete with HEPA filters & all. Huh. Maybe it IS a good value after all.

Yep. I'm a sucker. Derek found a system; now we're on the hunt for the Fit. I'll let ya know what a slob I am when I start the program & how things progress. I have a feeling this is going to be a hilarious process.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fun New Game

Ordinarily, I don't play on either of the gaming systems we own. I'm an old-school video gamer - SuperMario, SuperMario3, Sonic the Hedgehog, Tetris - you know, the ooooooooold stuff. I've tried newer versions, but let's face it, girls are just not cut out for 3D gaming. No really. It's true. They've done studies. Something about the way our brains work (no added commentary necessary). We're just not as cut out for that type of gaming. I digress. Point is: I don't play video games.

Yesterday, Derek talked me into buying SingStar for PS3. Basically, it's a karaoke game. And you can actually compete & get scored on accuracy. So I played a little. It was soooo much fun. And it was a lot like the game I played at a friend's bachelorette party & liked so much. These games are not as easy as you might expect. You have to be dead-on accurate ... by the game's standards not necessarily by how the popular artist sang the tune. And vibrato is a definite no-no if you want good accuracy. But all in all, it was lots of fun & we plan to download several more packs of songs for better variety. I foresee some SingStar parties in our future.

More Paint

So I finally heard from the claims adjustor with the valet company yesterday. They have admitted fault and are going to pay for the repairs on my car. Yay! So Ezmerelda goes to Sewell Lexus on Thursday for yet another minor paint job. I get a loaner to drive around while they do repairs. I suspect I'll have her back by the weekend. And hopefully there'll be no more incidents! Geez, I'm beginning to feel like a magnet....

A related sidebar: I do feel a little guilty. The valet driver has to reimburse the valet company for these repairs. I hadn't really anticipated that. And I hate that for the kid who drove her that night. But I guess it goes along with the job. Bummer.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Whew

This was another one of those weekend-from-my-weekend kind of weekends. I'm dragging today. But on the whole, it really was terrific.

Friday night I did some cleaning in anticipation of the busy weekend & possible weekend company. But because I've been keeping up with that lately, it didn't take all that long & we actually had some time to veg too. Saturday I got up early & walked the dog b/c it's been getting too hot to do that in the evenings. Dori was soooo happy. We haven't been walking her much lately b/c we've both been too busy. Then I ran errands in preparation for Derek's birthday party.

Derek's party went off without a hitch. We got to see several couples we hadn't seen in a while - Chrissy & Ross, Jarod & Morgan, David & Olga, Brian & Kelli, etc. It was great to catch up with everyone. It's amazing how quickly time sails by. And suddenly you realize it's been more than a year since you've stolen time for an outing together! There was plenty of food & fun. A great (late) time was had by all.

I sang two services Sunday. That was tough after getting in bed so late. But it went fine. After church, I met my accompanist for a rehearsal since we'll be cutting a CD this coming weekend - or at least getting started on a CD. Then I met Chrissy & Ross in far N. Plano b/c Chrissy'd left her purse at the party. Afterwards I did a little shopping on my way home. With summer here, the official casual attire decree has been issued at the office and I needed some new summer stuff. And it'll work for my two summer trips. Managed to find a few things. Still need to find a few new pairs of shoes - okay, maybe not need to but I want to. {"Hi, my name is S and I have a shoe problem."} Derek spent the day golfing with friends. They had a great time, even though it was blazing hot in the afternoon when they played. No one melted into a puddle & they all came back none the worse for wear but maybe a little red-necked.

And now you're all caught up on the weekend news.

Sunday, June 01, 2008