Friday, August 29, 2008

And We're Off

The checklists have been checked. The bags are packed. The car's loaded. And we're off! Gone to the ranch till late Monday.

Have a great Labor Day, everyone!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Where've You Been?

Gosh. Has it really been a week since I posted last? Blogger doesn't usually get these things wrong. It's been busy...and then it hasn't. Makes sense, right?

Let's see. For starters, did I mention all of the shifty-changy that's been going on at work? It's an election year, for one thing. And one of my bosses is retiring, for another. And one of the other assistants seems to be going off the deep end, for number three. Basically, what all of that means is: a) I have a new boss, which brings me to a whopping total of six judges and b) when my judge retires, I'll be picking up a current sitting judge rather than the newly-elected judge as my newest sixth boss. Let's just say, things have been interesting/tense/downright crazy. All in all though, the changes are good. The new bosses are/will be great to work for & I'm looking forward to it.

Things are accumulating quickly in the music dept. The recital program is set. The accompanist is (I'm almost certain) hired. I have most of my music for the review program. And I have the music for my extra Christmas gig. Whew. My work's cut out for me, that's for sure.

I had dinner with my girlfriend Jen who I haven't seen in ages. And I got to see her son, whom, I'm ashamed to say, I haven't seen since just after he was born almost TWO years ago! He's a cutie patootie. And she's doing well/looking fab. It was great to catch up.

The remainder of the weekend was pretty quiet. And I enjoyed that immensely. I spent most of the weekend in the craft room doing a long-neglected project for my voice teacher (that I'm hoping she's forgotten about ;p). I go back to the studio on the 8th, so I needed to get it (mostly) done while I had the time. It was nice to get back in the swing of crafting. I haven't really made anything since long before I left for my various summer trips.

This weekend we'll be going to the ranch with friends. It'll be nice to get away - where the cell phones won't work for anyone! We plan to loaf around, fish, shoot varmits, ya know...just chill out. The menu's planned, the stuffs all bought, we just need Friday to get here already! LOL

On another (unrelated) note, we're still working on the vacation property deal. We finally got all of the paperwork necessary to go to the bank. Unfortunately, the bank isn't all that interested in giving us the money - at least on terms we can agree on. As you know, the banking industry is THE PITS right now. It's taken a big hit from the mortgage crisis. And that basically means that money's tight all around. We naturally started with our own bank, thinking we'd get the best offer from them. Well, it wasn't pretty & we're not happy. And if that's going to be the best offer, well, UGH. We're making some more inquiries, but we're not optimistic. (Sigh) We were so sure this would be a breeze. I guess, it just caught us broadside when it didn't turn out that way. In the end, we know whatever happens will be for the best. We just kinda had our hearts set on the deal, ya know?

Guess that's about it from here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wiirk It

You may have noticed that I haven't posted about my Wii activity recently. Part of it is that I can't seem to remember to write anything down. And part of it is the whole denial thing. WHAT? I can't weigh that much. That's more than 1.5 lb difference from yesterday?! REALLY? My Wii Fit Age is 38? You suck, Mr. Balance Board. You shouldn't give me the balance tests you KNOW I can't do! And there's the Wii Balance Board. Mean little fart likes to talk about my snacking and say *oh* in this surprised voice every time I hop aboard. And then he has the audacity to say things like "do you fall down a lot?" and "do you find yourself tripping over flat surfaces?" at least two or three times everytime I Wiirk out.

But enough about that. Long story short, I'm about where I was before I left for Ireland. And while the Wii & I haven't visited as much recently, I've been walking & running with the dog so it's not like I've gone back to my slothlike ways. This week's rain means no outdoor workouts, so I'll try my best to remember to write down the current stats & post them for God & everybody, as they say.

Rain, Lovely Rain

We've had about five days of rain. And it's wonderful! The temps are much cooler - only in the 80s. And everything's green & happy. My grass certainly appreciates "real" water instead of the stuff that comes out of the sprinklers. Unfortunately, with the rain comes the fungus. And that means that my butt is dragging this week.

The last week has been busy. I've gone back to the paid singing job, so that means weekly obligations. (Plus, being the paid singer means I often get hired to sing other events, like weddings & funerals. I sang a wedding this weekend in the chapel.) I now have some idea what I'm in for from now until Christmas. And it will be lots of work. The three of us who are paid singers met to program our October recital. We made some excellent headway, so I feel a little better about that. Now...if I can just get some return phone calls on the accompanist front, everything will be settled!

This weekend, we went out with the neighbors for Skeet's birthday. With that group, you can always count on some crazy fun. And a late night. We went to The Grape for dinner. It's Restaurant Week here in Big D, so we got to take advantage of the special menu & fixed price. The food was terrific! And then we went dancing. It's been ages since I've done that ... at home anyway.

Other than that, you haven't missed much.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Just One

These kinds of things are fun every once in a while. I got this one from Emily. Answer each of the following in just ONE word - just ONE. (And, yes, I do realize that 23 is missing; it's missing from every single backlink I can find.)

1. Where is your cell phone? DESK
2. Where is your significant other? WORKING
3. Your hair? STRAIGHT
4. Your mother? NURSE
5. Your father? RETIRED
6. Your favorite thing? IPOD
7. Your dream last night? WEIRD
8. Your dream/goal? SING
9. The room you're in? OFFICE
10. Your hobby? SINGING
11. Your fear? FIRE
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? HAPPY
13. Where were you last night? HOME
14. What you're not? PATIENT
16. One of your wish list items? SCANNER
17. Where you grew up? RURAL
18. The last thing you did? PRINT
19. What are you wearing? CASUAL
20. Your TV? BIG
21. Your pet? KIDS
22. Your computer? NEW(ISH)
24. Your mood? OKAY
25. Missing someone? FRIENDS
26. Your car? EZMERELDA
27. Something you're not wearing? EARRINGS
28. Favorite store? KOHL'S
29. Your summer? TRAVEL
30. Love someone? ALWAYS
31. Your favorite color? BROWN
32. When is the last time you laughed? EARLIER
33. Last time you cried? WEEKS

Monday, August 11, 2008

Start All Over Again

My summer break has drawn to a close. This week, I go back to the ol' singing schedule. I've enjoyed this summer immensely. While I did "work" this summer on my various trips, the trips were a respite from the usual nonetheless. I get to jump back in with both feet as I immediately begin rehearsals for a Broadway review scheduled for the end of September and a recital slated for just two short weeks after that.

I certainly made the most of my weekend. We went to dinner with the in-laws on Friday night for their anniversary. Saturday, I got up & walked the dog and then detailed my car. It's amazing how dirty Ez had gotten. All the little spotty showers - and I certainly use that term loosely - the last week or so basically drew attention to the fine layer of dust that had settled. Now she's all sparkly clean, though she could definitely use a wax job - stupid bird poop. The little wash job took several hours - what can I say, I'm a perfectionist - so it was well into the morning before I got started cleaning house. We were supposed to have a house full of company for the Cowboy game. But ultimately, that moved to the neighbors' house. And I have to admit that I was a little relieved. It's a drag to clean & then have to re-clean after company. We spent the afternoon watching part of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and napping, of course.

Saturday night, I went to see Nine with a few friends. I didn't know much about the show before I went. I mean, I understood the basic primace but wasn't really sure how they were going to pull it off & whether or not it was really going to keep my attention. To my surprise, the show was fantastic. I can't say there are any unforgettable tunes, but the story as a whole was a hilarious romp through Guido's "misadventures," shall we say. The acting was superb and the singing wasn't too bad either.

Sunday was a lazy day. I did a little laundry. But mostly, I read Twilight. OMG, I loved this book! And I can't wait to read the remaining books in the series. Long story short, it's a vampire love story. I know, sounds weird, right? But seriously. Meyer is a terrific story-teller. Check out her book(s)!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Ireland: Day 10

And now we must say our goodbyes and bid a fond farewell to our beloved Ireland. We loaded up the bus one last time for our final drive to the airport - just a few minutes' drive from our hotel. Michael & Gary helped us navigate the crazy busy airport, which was a good thing b/c I'm not sure we would have ever found our way to the correct queue for checking in for our flight! Though the line was long, it moved surprisingly fast & we were checked in & through security in no time flat, though we didn't have too much time to wait to board our flight - maybe 45 min. tops.

The flight home from Dublin to Chicago was pretty bumpy - lots of ups & downs w/ quick hiccups in altitude. It felt like a Six Flags ride! We made the maze through customs at O'Hare & had about an hour or so to kill in the terminal before boarding our flight for DFW. All of us flipped on the cell phones (pretty funny to see 70 people on the phone at the same time) & made the quick calls to home.

We made it to Dallas only to have to wait around for over an hour for our luggage, which happened to fly home before we did. Well, part of it. My big bag was MIA & appeared on my doorstep via courier the following afternoon - thankfully, all in one piece w/ contents intact.

A big thanks to Gary, Michael, Lena, and Joe for showing us a fabulous time. The trip was just grand thanks to you! And, Ireland, we won't soon forget ye!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ireland: Day 9

Today we depart Waterford to ultimately end up in Dublin. Along the way, we made another pass through Wexford. Did you know that the Kennedys have roots in Ireland and often vacationed on their estate in Wexford? Yeah, me either. We stopped for a photo op with the JFK statue along the waterfront (and ironically next to another example of a coffin ship).

Next stop - Glendalough or the "valley of the two lakes." This small town is nestled in the Wicklow Mountains in County Wicklow, also known as the Garden of Ireland. Braveheart was filmed here b/c of easier access to scenery similar to the Scottish Highlands, which just aren't very easy to get to by any mode of inexpensive transportation.

Sir Kevin, who devoted his life to God, wanted solitude with God and thought the mountains would be an excellent place. He went to Glendalough and called it home, though there was no town or village there at the time. He was literally alone. Unfortunately, Sir Kevin had a reputation as a healer and great spiritual leader. His solitude in the mountains was soon shattered as people learned his whereabouts and a town literally developed around him.

Glendalough, aside from its scenery, is best known for its monastery and round tower. The monks commissioned its construction. There are many theories as to the round tower's purpose. Some argue they were built as look-out towers for the Vikings. Others believe they were simply bell towers meant to call the monks to prayer. Still others theorize they are some kind of "sign post." At 30 meters high, it's easy to agree with any one of these ideas.

We had several hours to tour the grounds - see the round tower, the cemetery, the old Monastery & some of its ruins. We walked down from the top of the hill - well, some of us did - through the winding woodsy footpath. It was lovely & definitely serene. The grounds were quite busy, so it wasn't as quiet as it might have been had we gone on a weekday. But it was still peaceful. The site of the tower & ruins, however, was certainly overcrowded & full of noisy kids. Apparently, every touring band of youth had descended upon the grounds at the same time. Ugh.

We gave a very brief outdoor concert - the rain halted us long about song number three. Which, quite frankly, was fine by all of us as none of us was particularly "into it." We had some free time for lunch before heading into Dublin for the afternoon for last-minute shopping & then on to our hotel by the airport for a quiet evening & farewell dinner.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Ireland: Day 8

We're in County Cork today & off to Blarney Castle. Lord Blarney built the castle on his estate in 1446. The Queen urged him, in every coy manner she could muster, to bequeath his estate to the crown upon his death. Naturally, he never gave the Queen a direct answer. In fact, did you know that there is no word for "yes" or "no" in Gaelic? So you'll notice that the Irish never really give you a direct answer to a yes or no question. They'll answer the question "twenty ways to Sunday" without ever really answering a question. That's why the Irish say "well, that's a lot of blarney."

Anyway. Back to Lord Blarney. So upon his death, he basically says "screw the Queen" and keeps the estate in the family rather than giving it to the crown. Blarney Castle is one of the best & largest examples of a tower house castle in Ireland.

On our way out of Blarney, we drove through Mallow, which was formerly the center of Irish sugar production. When Ireland joined the EU, they were forced to stop producing sugar. Instead, this industry was "given" to poorer countries in the EU. However, the Irish are still known for butter production & this region is now known for its quality butter.

We next went through Cork - also Michael's hometown. Cork Harbor is one of the deepest in the world. The Port of Cove is best known as the center of Irish immigration during the famine. Between 1848 & 1950, more than 2 million people passed through the port on their way to America. In fact, the Titanic made a stop there on April 11th before it met its tragic fate with the iceberg.

Wexford is the crop-growing region of Ireland. It's also known as the "sunny southeast" because it sees the most hours of sun per year.

Our ultimate destination (and fifth hotel) was Waterford, which is the Viking word for "windy fijord." It was founded in 853 but did not become an "official" city until 914 when they began trading with other countries. In the 19th century, Waterford became known for its ship building. Of course, you & I know it for its beautiful crystal, which came into production in 1783. We made a quick stop at the factory but chose not to take the tour due to the harried schedule we would have had later prior to the evening concert.

We gave a terrific concert at the City Hall. By far, it was our most enthusiastic audience. One of the attendees knew John Rutter quite well and thoroughly enjoyed the pieces we'd chosen. He returned to our hotel with us after the concert & he and Harry planned the upcoming season's Christmas concert - A Celtic Christmas.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Geez, It's Hot

Holy crap. I think I've died & gone to hell! Do you want to know what the high temp was yesterday? 107 ... 107!!! And it was humid. Where did our mild summer go? It was so nice there for a while. Then *BOOM* all of a sudden we're in the throws of a major heatwave. No matter what you did this weekend, it was hot. It was hot inside. It was hot outside. It was hot in the car. It was hot in the stores. It was just hot. Hot. HOT! And now that I'm all cranky about it.....let's talk about the weekend, shall we?

Aside from the fact that it was bloody hot, the weekend was nice. We had a quiet evening at home on Friday. We'd bought a new extended episode of one of our favorite sci-fi shows (Stargate SG1) & finally sat down to watch it. Then we did a little light cleaning before tucking in early. Saturday, I got up early to walk the dog, go for a run, and do some light yardwork. When I started the day at 6:30 a.m., it was 88 ... and humid. By the time I came in at 8, I was drenched. Blech. I had to shower before I could even start the housework. Did a little running around with mom & Granny midday (gluten free shopping at Central Market). Then came home & finished up the housework. Had to get that done since company might be coming. Well, that & it just needed to be done, ya know. In the evening, I went to a wine tasting party at my friend/co-worker Daon's house. A bunch of girls hanging around sipping wine. Good times. Derek BBQd chicken & ribs in my absence with a few friends & family. They must have had a good time b/c they were still there when I got in at 11:30! Yesterday we enjoyed a quiet day at home. Derek made me breakfast tacos (yummy). I have to say, it was nice not having to cook & being waited on. I could get used to it! ;p After breakfast, we cleaned up from the BBQ and did odds-n-ends around the house. I finally put our new wine rack together & Derek installed it in the pantry. He likes an excuse to use power tools. We ran a few afternoon errands. Mostly we just tried to stay cool.

And now it's time to start a new week. This is the last week of my summer break; then it's back to the regular singing schedule.

Ireland: Day 7

Today we drive the Ring of Kerry, which is, of course, all about the scenery. On our drive, our guide Michael gave us lots of Irish history. In fact, most of our drives were filled with tidbits of Irish history - from the beginning to present day with all kinds of little unrelated tidbits thrown in for fun. I can't say I've ever learned so much as I did on this tour!

That being said, I'll keep it interesting & germaine to the photos I've included in the slideshow. First point of interest is the annual King Puck festival in Killorglin. Each year, the villagers catch a mountain goat & bring him down into town & crown him king for the day. At the end of the day, Michael swears they let him go & he climbs back up the mountain. At any rate, the village continues to party for a week or two in honor of King Puck. Basically, it's an Irish version of Mardi Gras and draws quite the crowd of revelers. "Any excuse to have a party," Michael would say.

Our first photo stop (and break from the winding roads) of the morning was overlooking the Bay of Dinghle. If pictures only did it justice! Absolutely breath-taking views from here. But maybe that was just b/c it was brisk that morning.

We learned a bit about Daniel O'Connell who was a famous Catholic leader of the 1820s rebellion. O'Connell was raised by his rich uncle and afforded an excellent education in France. In 1798, he became a lawyer, moved home to Ireland, and formed the Catholic Association. It cost a penny a month to join the Association and everyone was welcome. The CA gave the Irish people a voice in a time when they were suppressed by the ruling British government (and their Penal Laws, which forbade Catholics from worshipping in public, forbade them from educating their children, and basically stripped them of all rights whatsoever). Thanks to the work of the O'Connell and the CA, he was elected to a seat in British Parliament but was unable to take it until 1829 when Catholic Emancipation was granted. Naturally, O'Connell is a true hero of the Irish people. And he is the only lay person for whom a church has ever been named.

We stopped in Waterville - home of one of Ireland's most famous golf courses (also on the PGA tour) and favorite vacation destination of Charlie Chaplin. We had lovely views of the Atlantic from here. We drove up the mountain for a view of Cork and the Skalleg Islands before lunching in Sneem - multi-time winner of the Irish Tidy Towns competition (more about that here) and home of Michael's favorite homemade ice cream. (Yep, it was good!) (Side bar: I will say that Ireland has the cleanest public restrooms ANYWHERE thanks to Tidy Town!)

From Sneem, we wound our way back down the mountains lickety split (and uppity chuck...almost) to Lady's View. This beautiful vista in the national park was Queen Victoria's favorite spot to bring her ladies for picnics, tea, entertainment, etc.

We ended our winding tour of the Ring of Kerry (none too soon for me!) with a stop at the Torc Waterfall. It's Ireland's highest waterfall at 18 meters (60 ft). A long trek up a wide, but slippery, footpath brings you to the crashing falls.

After dinner, we had the opportunity to attend a show at the local theatre. It could be compared to a small Broadway production - combo of music & dancing. It was presented in the traditional Irish Gaelic with traditional Irish dancing. It told the story of the potato famine from a very personal perspective. The show was very moving and we were all thankful for the opportunity to attend.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ireland: Day 6

Today we're up early for our trek to County Kerry and overnight in Killarney. Our first sight of the day was a small community of "tinkers." Travelers, or tinkers as they're known to the Irish and gypsies to us, gave up their homesteads and land during the Great Famine and began traveling the countryside, setting up camp wherever it was most convenient. While many went back to settle homes when prosperity returned, a small portion kept the traveling lifestyle. The Irish call these people tinkers b/c they were known for their skill in working with tin.

Our first stop of the morning was in Adare - "Ireland's prettiest village." Adare was built in the 1800s by the Dunraven family during English rule and is thus in the English style, or a planned gridlike community, as opposed to the Irish style of "higgily piggily." It truly was a lovely stop on our morning drive.

Just outside of Killarney, we took a detour to Aghadoe while there was a break in the morning drizzle. Prounounced ahg-hah-doe, it's a beautiful community atop a hill with breathtaking views of Killarney.

Killarney is Ireland's biggest tourist city and known for its friendly people, terrific scenery, and Ireland's tallest mountain. It's also home to Ireland's largest national park, part of which was bequeathed to the state by the Bourn family. In the middle of the park is Muckross House, a lovely estate built by Henry & Mary Herbert and designed by the great Scottish architect William Burn. The Herberts ultimately went bankrupt (after preparing for Queen Victoria's visit in 1861 (and subsequently not receiving the lord & ladyship they anticipated)) and had to sell the estate. Ultimately, the Bourn family purchased it for their daughter Maud upon her engagement to Arthur Vincent.

We gave our first outdoor concert at Muckross House. And quite frankly, it was abysmal. We survived and I don't think we left anyone too scarred by the brief concert. We then lunched and had time for shopping - Muckross had the most fabulous woolen products (and on-site mill).

We then left for our jaunting car ride through the national park - via horse and carriage no less. Our guide had promised us an interesting and entertaining tour with our jaunting car driver. Interesting, perhaps. Entertaining, not so much. We got a dirty old man we ultimately decided was a gypsy who couldn't speak much English. Ah, whatever, the scenery was still lovely. As we finished the ride, it began to rain quite hard so our group opted to return to the hotel and forego afternoon shopping.

This had to have been the most - um - interesting hotel of the entire tour. Turns out, it was a "family resort," which basically meant every Irish family came here to party with other Irish families while leaving their kids to fend for themselves in whatever ways they pleased. Let's just say that those kids were all still up & running around when we closed the hotel bar at 2 a.m. while their parents were passed out in various corners and lounge areas. Lovely. Not our favorite place to stay, obviously.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ireland: Day 5

And we're on the road again. From Galway to Limerick with a stop midday in Bunratty. On our way out of town, we had beautiful views of Galway Bay, not to mention more beautiful countryside. Passing by Gort, we saw huge wind turbine fields. Ireland's main source of energy for centuries has been peat, which is a finite resource. The peat bogs are shrinking more & more quickly, so the Irish government has sought new sources of energy. And so they've begun harnessing the power of the winds, which, as you can imagine, Ireland - as an island - has a lot of. We made a stop at Coole Park - former estate of Lady Gregory and William Yeats. We most enjoyed The Autograph Tree in the center of the park. By midday, we had arrived at Bunratty Castle for a tour and lunch.

Bunratty Castle was built by the Macnamara family and later acquired (after battle) by the O'Brien family. After the fall of the Irish to the English, the castle was abandoned and ultimately fell in disrepair. Lord Gort acquired the property in the 1950s and restored it to its current splendor - with the help of the Public Works Dept. - including the medieval furnishings. It is said to be the most authentic castle and furnishings in all of Ireland. Some pieces include 16th century tapestries, a hand-carved solid oak hope chest, and giant Irish elk antlers (a now-extinct 12,000-yr-old species of very large elk native to Ireland) perfectly preserved by the peat bogs. What struck us most about the castle were the tiny, dizzying, winding staircases. Though now equipped with hand rails for safety, I cannot imagine traipsing up & down these staircases in full medieval garb as the lords and ladies of the castle once did!

After our castle tour, we checked in to our hotel which was in Limerick - about a 20 min drive from Bunratty. Our hotel was right on the River Shannon. And about a 15 min walk took you in to the center of town, where you could see King's Castle, St. Mary's Cathedral, the Hunt Museum, just to name a few.

In the evening we returned to Bunratty Castle for a medieval banquet that was great fun as one of our own - Rick Harding - was thrown into the dungeon for making eyes at the ladies of the King's Court.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Ireland: Day 4

Today we leave Dublin for Galway. It's our first glimpse of Irish countryside ... and the new road system. The EU regulates national traffic and establishes rules - like road numbering, speed limits, sizes of roadways, etc. Until Ireland became a part of the EU, they had small two-lane roads - with many stoplights - between all the major cities. Several years ago, the EU began building larger highways - some as wide as four lanes - throughout Ireland which has made travel time across the country much quicker. So we made great time from Dublin to Galway (got there for lunch).

Along the way, we saw our first tower house. These castles were built for the purposes of watching for enemy invaders. We also saw lots of stone fencing which both divides property and separates property into smaller paddocks. The stones are not held together with mortar but rather are built by simple skill of stacking. The better the stacker - the better the wall. Some of the walls have been standing for many hundreds of years. We also saw our first "coffin ship" or "death ship." These were the vessels that were used to sail immigrants across the Atlantic to America to escape the terrors of the Great Famine. These ships came by their names honestly as a great number of the passengers who braved them lost their lives in route to freedom and prosperity.

Once in Galway city, we took a driving tour of the city. We saw the River Shannon, both of the St. Stephen cathedrals (one is inside the city walls and the newer one is on the outside of the walls), and the pedestrian walk. We walked the city center and had lunch on our own before heading to the hotel for the afternoon.

We gave our second concert of the tour in St. Stephen Cathedral inside the walls of the city. By far, this venue had the most fabulous acoustics. That being said, our Broadway pieces didn't work quite as well in this resonant room. But our spirituals and contemporary American art songs certainly did! This concert also drew a nice crowd, including a neighborhood pigeon who stayed until the last note was sung and then politely left out the front door.