Tuesday, March 31, 2009

News from Beth and a taxicab-driving story

Boy, I am so far behind with reading my "Favorites" and commenting! Only got to the second one earlier this morning when I was reminded of a taxicab story which I'll share with you just a bit later in this post. (I had to take the time to read back through whatall I had previously published labeled "Taxi driving". I didn't want to bore you silly.)

First, tho, let's all wish Beth a happy birthday. I sent her a "Happy birthday!" e-mail about twelve hours ago. I hoped she'd get it. I thought, if she's indeed in Malaysia as she'd been originally scheduled - where their time is something like 13 hours ahead of ours, I could at least send it early enuf so that she'd get it while it was still her birthday!

I want all of you to know that I heard back from her. She's in Malaysia. Sounds like she's still in Kuala Lumpur, because she talked about 'sleeping in' and was planning on going to the hotel spa later. Tee hee! So, if she's still in Kuala Lumpur, that means she's running about three days behind schedule. But that's OK. At least we know she's safe, right?

Moving on to the taxicab story. It's true, as are all of my taxicab stories. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent - or, in some instances, fabricated because I can't remember their names!

The year would have been 1990. I was a relatively new cab driver. I was computer-dispatched to Methodist Hospital "ASAP". Customer would be going to IAH. I arrived at the hospital entrance within a couple of minutes of receiving the details of the trip on my computer.

Customer was there. No luggage. I asked, "IAH?" "Yes," he replied, "but we have to wait for something." Twenty minutes later, we were still waiting for the 'something'.

He didn't want me to leave. He wanted me to stay right where I was. I stayed. I didn't think to turn the meter on to register "waiting time" in addition to the flat rate to IAH from the medical center. I was too new to the cab-driving business. (In retrospect, even after many years as a taxicab driver, I probably would have done the same thing - thinking all the while that any second now the 'something' would appear, but let's move on.)

A few minutes later the automatic sliding glass doors opened and this white-coated figure appeared holding a little box ... almost looked like one of those Japanese carryout type of thingees. My customer immediately stopped his frantic pacing back and forth, grabbed the box, jumped in my cab and said, "Let's go!"

I asked, "What's in the box?" "A heart," he said. "My God! What time's your flight?" "11:00."

I took off out of there like my life depended on it, but it was already 10:30. We couldn't make it. There was no way possible that we could make it without a police escort, and even so ... ... I immediately got on the horn with Yellow Cab and requested a police escort. Explained the situation. They didn't take me seriously. In fact, my memory recalls the dispatcher laughing at me!

It wasn't the least bit amusing. I got off the radio and concentrated on my driving. Ran through every single red light in sight, going 90-100 mph the whole time (even on city streets) and praying - praying - that I'd see a cop. I'd explain later, I thought.

Never did see one. Not a single solitary one! We arrived at IAH in time for him to make his flight and he handed me a hundred dollar bill, requesting change. !!!

I didn't have it. Further moments were lost as he went through all of his pockets, finally coming up with the exact amount due ... no tip, no waiting time, nothing extra. A brief "Thank you!" and off he went.

Can you believe it? Even all these years later, I'm having trouble believing it!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Deep doodoo

I am in deep doodoo. Indeed, I am. I have recently developed an addiction.

Whoops! Did I just say an addiction? Would that it were ever so!!

Do you remember my crowing about losing weight? How, ever since Ike struck a little more than six months ago, I haven't stocked ice cream in my freezer? As a matter of fact, I think my exact words were ... well, never mind what my exact words were ... ... here ... ... you'll have to scroll down 10-11 paragraphs or so, but you can read what I said for yourself. And I wasn't exactly crowing. More like I was speculating.

Well, I'm still not "stocking" ice cream in my freezer. No no. I'm not. I'm not stocking it. It's being eaten too fast to be considered stocked. At least I haven't yet deteriorated to the extent that I am buying vanilla ice cream by the gallon, loading it up with warm chocolate sauce and topping all of that off with peanuts. Hmmph! How dare you even think of such a dastardly thing? I mean, how dare you!

So what do you think might have caused this latest dive into the depths of chocoholickism? I blame it all - there has to be someone or something to blame, right? - on Viactiv. Aye, there's the culprit! (You knew that I would ferret out and then point my finger at the guilty evil party, didn't you? Well, I just did!)

Ever since I told you that I couldn't possibly bring myself to put another of those little square Viactiv thingees in my mouth and force myself to chew on it over and over and over again until - finally - it should either be swallowed or spat out in disgust ... ... ... I had to pause here. I was just going to look up when I wrote that, for crying out loud! It would have been sometime this year.

But then I got to thinking that we have to go back to the reason why I'm trying to inflict my body with at least 1200 'whatevers - I forget what the term is' of calcium each and every single day. Why the devil is it that this required intake is now so important, anyway?

Ah, yes! I can pinpoint almost exactly when this all began. It was in May 2008 ... almost a year ago. I saw my "new" primary care doctor. I use the term 'new' to the loosest possible extent because I - prior to that date - never had a 'primary care' doctor. How do you like that term? I like it not the least little bit!

But, alas, I have digressed terribly. I apologize. Not only to this post, but to my poor mouth and saliva glands, who are at this very moment screaming out, "Fudge bars. We want fudge bars! We want fudge bars!! We demand fudge bars!!!" Have to go to the store now. Talk atcha later!

Friday, March 27, 2009

National Geographic news

Precious, just precious. Take a look at this adorable picture of clouded leopard cubs.

They were born just a couple of weeks ago - the first litter in sixteen years - at a conservation center in Virginia. You can read the complete story here. For actual footage of one of the babies being bottle fed, be sure to scroll down to the very bottom of the article.

Another article in today's newsletter features a lion whisperer, per se, who works on a private reserve near Johannesburg, South Africa.

An animal behaviorist, Kevin discovered at a very early age that he had a remarkable gift for communicating and interacting with animals.

Wanting to see more than the very short video that National Geographic provided, I went to YouTube and did a search for "lion whisperer". Here's what I found ... ...

That's certain to be included among the "Don't try this at home, kids!" admonitions.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just a couple of things ...

... while I have a few minutes before I have to leave for another mentoring session at the bridge studio.

I had the weirdest thing happen last night. It was between 8:30 and 9:00 pm. I wasn't here at the computer. I don't remember what I was doing exactly, but all of a sudden I heard this fairly loud what I can best describe as an electrical sound ... not 'zapping', but more like a droning or humming. I muted the sound on the television. Still there. I turned the television off. Still there.

I thought, "My God!" Immediately I began going from room to room trying to isolate the source of the sound, all the while sniffing like crazy and looking somewhat frantically around for flames. I had my cell phone at the ready, just in case I had to call 911.

The sound never got louder. Just stayed constant. I even started to climb the stairs to the attic, but it wasn't coming from up there either. It was everywhere, actually. The darndest thing!

Then, just as I opened the back door to see if it was any louder outside, it stopped.

Now, I've been in a tornado. Tornadoes have a very distinct sound, not unlike that of what you might imagine a freight train would sound like coming right at you. Very loud. Scary as all get out. And there's a smell. Dirty. Not like a garbage dump or an overflowing toilet. More like everything all mashed together and being blown or carried around in this horrendous swirl of dust.

I watched two different local news reports a bit later, fully expecting to hear about a tornado touching down somewhere in this area. Nothing. One had touched down in Huntsville, but that's many miles to our north. Hmph! Weird, huh?

I talked to my daughter, who lives about 15 miles west and a touch north of me, earlier today and asked her if she'd heard anything similar her direction. Nope. Just rain and wind.

Rain. Did your mind register what you just read? Wunderbar! Sorely needed. Right now my back yard has many standing puddles of the wet stuff. Those puddles won't be around long. They'll be quickly gobbled up by the parched ground.

It's probably been an hour or so now since I looked outside. Think I'll sneak out and take another peek. Hang on for a sec while I do so, OK? ... ... Just as I thought. Only one little puddle left. Smells nice and fresh outside. Glorious, glorious rain.

Gotta go. Talk atcha tomorrow, probably.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On giving ... (part three) ...

In all my many years of living I have considered myself a giver, although there are some who might take issue with that statement. I must admit, however, that I give selectively ... not always when asked, never when 'expected', and usually only when I feel personally compelled to do so. I guess I could be labeled a "selective giver". That would probably be very close to the truth.

At this stage in my life, I have the time to volunteer. There are many organizations which are in need of services such as I have to offer, and yet I do not seek them out. I find myself too preoccupied with my own interests, too self-involved. I derive a tremendous amount of pleasure, satisfaction and enjoyment just being at home and by myself. So perhaps I could fairly be labeled a "selfish giver". (Now there's an oxymoronic phrase for you!)

Very recently, I extended myself to try and help someone I thought was a friend. I spent hours and hours talking with him personally and corresponding by e-mail, telling the truth while at the same time attempting to choose my words carefully and tactfully. He is extremely sensitive and I tried to be responsive to his moods and needs.

He has cut me off. I don't feel anger or resentment, nor do I begrudge any of the time I spent trying to be of assistance. Instead, I feel a sort of emptiness, a hollowness, an estrangement if you will.

I don't expect accolades nor would I want them. A simple "thank you" goes a long long way with me. If you cannot bring yourself to utter those words, a single smile will do the trick. Just don't dismiss me, pretend I never existed, or (worse yet) try to demean me in order to make yourself feel better. Please!

I probably will not exclude you from any future interaction with me, nor will I allow myself to go around 'bad mouthing' you to any and all who might be eager for choice tidbits or gossip, but I will be extremely reticent.

There is another instance that stands out in my memory banks. A friend of mine ... again I'm using the word 'friend' here because I thought he was! A fellow cab driver. We had gone to Astros games together, had argued and laughed ... I even confided in him (more like I asked questions) once or twice about another driver whom we both knew. I felt close to him.

We were never boyfriend and girlfriend. That was not going to happen, although I'll admit that I found him attractive 'in that way'. He had a lot of girlfriends but was notorious for treating each one like so much garbage that he could use and then dispose of summarily.

Well, one day we all (all of us taxicab drivers) came to learn that Lawrence was in the hospital ... the VA. It seemed that he'd been diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis was anything but good.

I went to see him. If I hadn't known it was he in that hospital bed, I would not have recognized him. There are some gory details that I will not share with you, but - truly - he looked awful! He was extremely ill and cried when he saw me. I was SO glad that I had taken the time to go and visit.

I called a bridge friend of mine, Julian, whose name you might remember my mentioning a time or two before. Julian has been fighting cancer for many many years, and at this point appears to be winning his mighty battle. Julian went over to the VA just as soon as he could get his body up there and visited with Lawrence. I felt really good about the possibility of Julian's being able to inspire Lawrence after sharing his own story. Really good!

As it turned out, however, Lawrence was never again able to drive a taxicab. In fact, he was released from the VA just to go home. I heard from one of his girlfriends that his family needed food, and so one Friday afternoon I stopped at a grocery store and took a bunch of stuff over there. I was tickled that I had both the wherewithal and time to do it.

We had a nice visit. His mother and sister were there and I was happy to meet both of them. Lawrence was definitely recognizable at this point, and I found myself a little hopeful that he might even recover. But then, as Lawrence was walking me out to my car, he asked, "(My name), what kind of game are you playing?"

Boy, that brought me up short! I was stunned. I stopped, turned to look at him and said, "The game's over, Lawrence." Those were the last words we ever exchanged with each other.

Some weeks later, one of my other cab driver friends came up to me - I was in the staging area at Hobby Airport - and said, "Lawrence is in the lounge. He's changed. He'd like to see you."

I didn't go inside the lounge. In fact, I didn't even get out of my cab until I saw Lawrence, teetering and painstakingly trying to make his way towards me. I quickly got out and walked back towards the fence, figuring (rightly) that this wasted-looking individual could not keep up with me. I didn't look back. I just stayed there at the fence line.

Do you think I'm proud to admit that I did such a thing? I am not! In retrospect, I wish I had been a good enough Christian to run towards him and at least look him straight in his dying eyes and give him a hug. He reached out and I failed to catch him.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Happy birthday, Jacky!

There's an old saying that goes something like, "A friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you anyway." Well, Jacky doesn't know "all" about me, but she knows enough to probably get me in deep doodoo if she felt so inclined.

We first met in the very early '60s when I was teaching first grade in Montmorenci, Indiana. Her daughter was one of my students. She, along with many other parents, came to "Open House" a few weeks after the school year began and we hit it off immediately.

I don't remember exactly which of us first suggested getting together outside of school functions. (Jacky does, I'll bet. She's got a mind like a steel trap!) It really doesn't matter who. Little by little, over the next few years, we grew closer and closer and in the many years since have managed to stay in contact with each other.

At this point in time, except for the miles between us, I feel closer to her than ever. She reads my blog, and sometimes I pass along her comments in my responses. Perhaps one day she'll sign up for Blogger so she can comment directly.

Anyway, a couple of months back or so, I was looking for a card for someone else and came across one that I quickly snatched up while it was still on the shelf. I absolutely had to have it! Then I e-mailed her husband on the "qt" and asked him when her birth date was. I was hoping it hadn't already passed us by. I was so relieved to hear back that her birthday is today. Not only was that a piece of good news but, even tho I knew she was younger than I, I didn't realize she is celebrating her 70th. What a momentous occasion!

Let me tell you about the card I found. The scene is a liquor store. A woman has made her selection and brought it to the counter. The clerk demands to see her identification. In amazement and utter delight, the woman - who's probably in her 30's - raises her fist in the air and says, "Yes!"

Why did I absolutely have to have this card? Well, we'll go back in time to more than 40 years ago when Jacky and I were having a gal's night out at one of the local pubs. Underage people were allowed in there, but they weren't served any liquor. Not that we were worried about that. It had been many years since either of us had been carded.

When the waiter asked me to show proof of age, I was flabbergasted! In my haste to get it out of my purse, I dropped everything on the floor, wallet and all. I was very much like that woman in the liquor store. Jacky was fuming. She wasn't asked, I was!

The inside of the card? I didn't write them down and so I don't know the exact words, but they - paraphrasing here from what I choose to remember - said, "Another year older? You're going to have to prove it!" Can you see why I just had to have that card?

A most happy happy birthday to you, Jacky, dear old friend. I love you.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Taking a break

Whew! I'm taking a little break here from writing memories of my taxi-driving years.

There's a critique meeting tomorrow afternoon of WOW, my writing group, and my mind has been primarily focused on that. Each of us has to submit at least a week prior whatever it is we would like the rest of the group to critique.

I already did that, but there have been so many ideas floating around in my head that I wanted to at least get some of them started in Word while they were still alive and kicking!

I'm not sure how much (if anything) I will be contributing to this blog in the next day or so ... have to spend whatever free time I have available between now and tomorrow afternoon on reading others' submissions and offering thoughtful comments and suggestions, and so am just writing this little bit now to tell you what's going on.

My friend Jacky's 70th birthday is Monday. I - most serendipitously and quite by accident - found the perfect card to send her, and will tell you all about it Monday. She might not have received it yet, and I don't want to spoil it for her. There's a neat story behind it that I'll share with you.

Hope your weekend has started off well!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Vernal equinox

I learned something today ... that the first day of each season does not always fall on the same date. That almost blew my mind!

I'm a "first day of summer" gal - June 21st each and every year*, or so I had always thought right up until today. Danged near mind-blowing, as I said. Wiki has a neat chart of the equinox and solstice dates and official 'start' times from 2004 through 2017 here, in case you'd like to spend a few minutes perusing it. (Here in Houston, being as how we're on CST, Spring's 'official start time' was at 6:44 this morning.)

Along the way, while browsing through some more or less official sites on this first seasonal change for 2009, I signed up for a few National Geographic newsletters**. I've decided that I am not as informed as I should be. I'll be sure to share any of the really good info with all of you.

E-mails ...

Meanwhile, back at my e-mail ranch, I seem to have FInally almost completely disappeared from the radar screen of those who are very ill, jobless, dying, or with babies/children/elderly relatives, etc., who are dependent on them and will not survive another day unless I send them money. Yea! (But "Shhh!", don't tell anyone, OK?)

I spent many months and countless hours of not answering/opening - just hitting the "Delete" button, diligently 'unscribing' where possible and reporting to the 'powers that be' when not possible scam artists and fraudulent schemes. For the longest time it seemed like my efforts were going for naught, but maybe, just maybe ... ... again, tho, I whisper, "Shhh!"

Nowadays, my Inbox consists mainly of personal correspondence and that's as it should be. I received one this morning, however, that I have yet*** to delete. It's official-looking and from none other than Kofi Annan. Are you as impressed as I was? In part, here's how it reads (verbatim) ... This email is to all the people that have been scammed in any part of the world, the UNITED NATIONS have agreed to compensate them with the sum of US$450.000.00 -- Your name and email was in the list submitted by our Monitoring Team of Economic and Financial Crime Commission observers and this is why we are contacting you, this have been agreed upon and have been signed ...

A few are trying to loan me money. Perhaps they have had a look at my bank account? However, if they have and took even more than a cursory glance, they should very well know that I do not have the means to pay them back. I'll ignore them. They will go away -- eventually.

I had a really peculiar thing happen a couple of months ago. I woke up after a pretty good night's sleep and came in here only to discover that I had 293 e-mails in my Inbox and 70 or so in my Junk E-mail box. !!

"Ye gods!" I thought. I couldn't automatically delete everything because, interspersed amongst those I thought I had already - some even long ago - relegated to the trash bin were current e-mails, for crying out loud! Have you ever had that happen to you?

My son-in-law told me that it must have been just a "glitch" in the system (he had experienced the same thing about the same time that I had, altho my daughter hadn't -- interesting!?!). In all the years - and he's the expert and I am most definitely the neophyte - he's been working with computers, this was the first time he had come across such a glitch.

My Astros ...

Let me tell ya, folks, y'all had better watch out for the Astros! Danged near close to a 'perfect' grapefruit league season, my guys - except for an almost inexcusable win (opening day, wasn't it?) - now have an enviable**** record of 1-16-3. The third figure refers to tie games where either or both teams have conceded that they no longer have the will, interest, strength or manpower to continue another inning.

And why in the devil would they? Either of them?!? Heavens to Betsy!! In the twenty games played thus far, I think I'm correct in saying that there have been 31 unearned runs scored by the opponents due to errors by 'my team'. :(

[Btw, I just returned home from the store. I was listening to the Astros game on the radio while I was driving. According to the announcers, their projected starting pitchers have a combined ERA of 1.72. Give me a break. Puhlease!]

So what's on TV? ...

NCAA basketball, that's what's on television! Not only is March madness encompassing nearly all of sports enthusiasts' interests at this time, it is most definitely interfering with my enjoyment of "Wheel" and "Ghost Whisperer". So what is a body (such as mine) to do?

Well, this next several days I will be focusing on my autobiography as it relates to my cab driving years - 1989-2007. Realizing that I would now have to really concentrate on trying to recapture some of those years, I am not the least bit pleased to tell you that I have been experiencing almost nightly dreams wherein my memoirs almost compose themselves. I wish the 'self-composing' episodes were true, but - unfortunately - they are not, and so I will just have to end this post (have to get on with my memoir writing) in the hope that you are experiencing a most happy first day of Spring!

*In 2008, the 'first day of summer' actually occured on June 20th! Where was I at that time? Probably still asleep, for crying out loud!!

**Just got my first National Geographic newsletter, talking about the undersea volcanic eruptions. Interesting!

***Deleted. (You didn't think I was going to save this piece of ****, did you? Come on, now!)

****Last I listened, the Astros were ahead 2-0. (Don't give up yet, opponents. It's only in the 6th or 7th inning. With any luck at all, after today our record will be 1-17-3!)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Subscribing to blogs

Do you subscribe to any blogs? I have "subscribed" to only one blog, and that was because one of my blogger friends was starting a new one in addition to the one he already had. I was trying to offer my encouragement and support.

That's kind of a new feature for "Blogger" where the author can list, if he/she chooses to do so, how many 'followers' he/she has.

Personally, that has no appeal for me. Throughout pretty much my whole life - except when I was very young and peers were so important, I have had little or no interest in 'popularity contests'. At the same time, however, I must admit that I go back to my "followers" list every three or four days just to see who I might have gained or lost following a particular post. :) I guess that's only natural.

My posts are (mainly) just for me. I first began publishing in January of 2008, and I will be the first to tell you that I have had an absolute 'blast' with these! If you're interested in them, I'm glad. If you're interested enough to leave a comment, I'm super glad! And some of us, even, have become friends.

I have not blocked 'Anonymous' comments - altho I would prefer that you have the courage and good manners to sign your name, nor have I felt the need to moderate comments, thank goodness!

I have some "Favorites" - each for a different reason - that, if I don't check back with their sites at least every other day or so, it's like waking up in the morning and not having coffee. I need their energy, their enthusiasm, their unique thoughts and very special wakeup messages to jumpstart my day!

They know who they are, I hope ... ... Audrey, Chuck, Craig, Daryl, Ellen, Janet, Michael, Nancy, Patrick, Simon, Steve, Steven, Tammy, (other) Tammy, Will and (other) Will. Special special people all, and I feel so privileged to be included as an outsider looking in on their unique worlds.

I have been humbled by your comments of support, brought up short by some of your criticisms, but most of all grateful that so many of you have thought my blog worthy of inclusion in your busy lives.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sun dancer

I will probably never know what exactly draws me to things like this, but drawn to them I am ... ... romanticism? imagery? imagination?

Pleasant dreams!

PS. There's a really neat writeup about sun dancers here. I heartily recommend it!

Youthful hope and inspiration

A Venezuelan economist and amateur musician by the name of Jose Antonio Abreu, believing that young people in extremely impoverished circumstances could be rescued from their environment and directed away from a likely future life of crime and drug abuse by exposure to classical music, founded what is now called El Sistema (the system). That was in 1975.

Today, his theory has proved so sound that there are approximately 300,000 youngsters involved in this program, which includes hundreds of youth and children's orchestras. The best of these perform not only in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, but also throughout the United States and much of Europe.

CBS 60 Minutes, with Bob Simon reporting, aired - a year or so ago - an in depth piece that I'd like to share with you.

Watch CBS Videos Online

You might recall, from watching that report, the name Gustavo Dudamel. This young man, still in his 20's, is a product of the system that Dr. Abreu initiated so many years ago. You can find a very nice writeup about Gustavo, now an internationally-recognized conductor, here. (From CBS evening news --2008 -- Bob Simon reporting)

In 1995, Dr. Abreu was appointed Special Ambassador for the development of a global network of youth and children's orchestras and choirs by UNESCO. When he was given the Venezuelan B'nai B'rith Human Rights Award in 2008, he summarized the goal of El Sistema and his life's work by saying, "In the struggle for Human Rights, let us vigorously incorporate children's sublime right to music, in whose bosom shines Beingness in its splendor and its ineffable mystery. Let us reveal to our children the beauty of music and music shall reveal to our children the beauty of life."

Just this past month, one of only three of the prestigious TED prizes for 2009 was awarded to Dr. Abreu. From that award ceremony, under the conductorship of Gustavo Dudamel, here are some of Venezuela's elite high school musicians performing Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, 2nd movement, and Arturo Marquez' Danzon No. 2. Enjoy, and perhaps even be as amazed as I was!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Answers to St. Patrick's Day Quiz

1. Patrick is credited with a) Making the shamrock Ireland's national symbol, b) Converting Ireland to Christianity, and c) Driving the snakes out of Ireland. In other words, d) All of the above was the correct answer.

2. The green symbolizes b) Ireland's lush landscape.

3. The first St. Patrick's Day parade in the United States was held in d) Boston in 1737. New York City's first St. Patrick's Day parade was in 1762.

4. A leprechaun's usual job is a b) Shoemaker.

5. Colcannon consists of potatoes and c) Cabbage mashed together with butter.

6. Seamrog translates to b) Little clover.

7. Ceapaire = sandwich, geansai = sweater, and riomhaire = computer, so a classic Irish toast would be b) Slainte!, which is Irish for "Cheers!"

8. In 1962, the tradition of a) Dyeing the Chicago River green for a day began. The green lighting for the Sears (soon to be re-named?) Tower started in 1997.

9. The Boston Red Sox played in green jerseys to mark St. Patrick's Day in d) 2004, which turned out to be quite a successful year for them. They were the first team in major league history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series, and then went on to win the World Series.

10. The Caribbean nation where St. Patrick's Day is an official public holiday is c) Montserrat. The other two countries are Ireland, of course, and Canada -- the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador. March 17th also commemorates the martyrdom of those who died in a failed slave uprising in 1768, when African-Montserratian slaves revolted against the island's Irish plantation owners. Montserrat is also known as the "Emerald Isle of the Caribbean".

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Now, I ask you ...

Does this look like a big piece of cheese, or does this look like a big piece of cheese? I mean, I ask you!

And it looks edible, does it not? (It also looks like a somewhat deformed skeleton or malformed 'whatever', but we'll not go there.)

Seriously now, if you haven't placed this site on your "Favorites" list yet, I hope that you will do so. However, if you choose not to, rest assured that I will continue to be on the lookout for you and will post photos such as these from time to time on "Goldenrod's thoughts".

Have a good one!

Bump keys

Okaaay ... ... this is information I would rather not have had.

What do you know about bump keys? Have you even heard of bump keys? I had not before receiving an e-mail a short while ago from one of my friends. I don't want to go on and on about a topic such as this one, and so I won't. However, it is probably best to be informed.

This is what a typical bump key looks like ...

and its function is to pick open a pin tumbler lock. Isn't that wonderful? I guess we can thank the Danes for this who, in the 1970's, shared a technique for knocking on a lock cylinder while applying slight pressure to the back of the lock plug.

Just in case you are mechanically challenged, as I am, Wiki has a really good explanation of how a pin tumbler lock works. Even I understand it! Wiki goes on to describe some of the various countermeasures, mostly ineffective, that have been tried and are currently being tested to thwart lock bumping.

If you choose to Google "bump keys", you will see that over 9,000,000 others have already done the same thing. There you will find ad after ad after ad trying to lure you into spending your hard-earned $$ on a countermeasure that doesn't work. I find this outrageous!

An article published in 2007 by snopes.com gives you even more information on this subject. In addition to confirming what I have just written, it goes on to suggest what your best options might be. You should probably avail yourselves of the opportunity to read it. It's short and to the point.

A St. Patrick's Day Quiz

How are you on facts and Irish folklore? In anticipaton of the big day tomorrow, I thought a little quiz might be fun.

1. St. Patrick's Day honors Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, also called the Apostle of Ireland. He is credited with:

a. Making the shamrock Ireland's national symbol.
b. Converting Ireland to Christianity.
c. Driving the snakes out of Ireland.
d. All of the above.

2. A popular St. Patrick's Day tradition is wearing green clothing. What does the green symbolize?

a. The green on Ireland's flag.
b. Ireland's lush landscape.
c. The emeralds on St. Patrick's bishop's scepter.
d. The wealth of the leprechauns.

3. The first St. Patrick's Day parade in the United States was held in which city?

a. North Bend, Indiana
b. New York City
c. Dublin, Ohio
d. Boston

4. In Irish folkflore, a leprechaun is a small magical man who has a hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. What is a leprechaun's usual job?

a. Blacksmith.
b. Shoemaker.
c. Baker.
d. Candlestick maker.

5. In Ireland, where St. Patrick's Day is an important religious holiday that happens to fall during Lent, many enjoy a traditional meal that includes colcannon -- boiled potatoes and butter mashed together with this vegetable:

a. Rutabagas.
b. Turnips.
c. Cabbage.
d. Beets.

6. The shamrock, Ireland's national symbol, is from the Irish seamrog. This translates to:

a. Tiny treasure.
b. Little clover.
c. Green flower.
d. Sweet hope.

7. A classic Irish toast, especially when having a pint of stout or lager at the local Irish pub, is:

a. Ceapaire!
b. Slainte!
c. Geansai!
d. Riomhaire!

8. In Chicago, what popular St. Patrick's Day tradition started in 1962?

a. Dyeing the Chicago River green for a day.
b. Free green beer at Wrigley Field.
c. Lighting the Sears Tower antennas green.
d. The leprechaun parade on the Magnificent Mile.

9. Baseball's Boston Red Sox was the first team to play in green jerseys to mark St. Patrick's Day. This lucky tradition began in the year:

a. 1915.
b. 1967.
c. 1986.
d. 2004.

10. One of only three countries in the world where St. Patrick's Day is an official public holiday is this Caribbean nation:

a. Aruba.
b. British Virgin Islands.
c. Montserrat.
d. Cayman Islands.

How well do you think you did? Any score higher than 2 out of the 10 will beat mine! I have some Irish ancestry, too! Shameful, almost. I'll publish the answers at 12:01am tomorrow.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The rest of the story ...

The whole world lost a truly unique individual very recently ... ... Paul Harvey.

I would like to refer you to Chuck's eloquent post in tribute to this fine man. I hope you will take the time to read what Chuck had to say. I echo his sentiments wholeheartedly.

Really, there is nothing I could write that would add anything of significance to what Chuck said, so I'll just close this by including one of Paul's "The Rest of the Story" pieces as currently available on YouTube.

News from Beth

I just received an e-mail from my friend Beth, who is in Equatorial Guinea. You might remember that I drove her up to IAH in early February.

She was originally scheduled to return next week, but I reported here that they'd had some troubles over there and were more or less in a "lockdown" mode until things quieted down. The next day she wrote that training had been re-scheduled and it looked like she'd be coming back almost as planned.

Well, her itinerary has been changed. It now appears as tho Beth will be going directly to Malaysia from Equatorial Guinea instead of coming back to Houston. (Click on map to enlarge.)

She'll fly into Kuala Lumpur on the 27th, where she'll stay overnight before continuing on to Kerteh, where she will join two other members of their implementation support team. Her arrival date back in Houston is now projected to be mid-April.

She's fast becoming a world traveler!

Meanwhile, down in Pearland, her husband and mother have had lots of company. Her brother-in-law got the job he was applying for there (great news!), and Beth's house is temporarily accommodating four adults and four dogs, so there's not been a dull moment!

She sent a joke, which I'm going to share with you ... ...

One day God was looking down at Earth and saw all the rascally behavior that was going on, so he called upon one of his angels and sent the angel to Earth to personally observe for a period of time and then come back and give him a report.

When the angel returned he told God, "Yes, it's bad down there. Ninety-five percent of the people are misbehaving. Only 5% are not."

"Hmmm," thought God, "maybe I should send another angel down to get a second opinion." So he sent another angel. When that angel returned he went to God and said, "Yes, it's true. The Earth is in decline."

God was not pleased. He decided to e-mail the 5% who were being good to give them some words of encouragement, give them a little something to help keep them going.

Do you know what the e-mail said?

OK, I was just wondering, because I didn't get one either ...

Friday, March 13, 2009

A couple of jokes

I've got a bunch of other things going on right now that require a bit of concentration, so thought I'd try and lighten up your day (and mine) with a chuckle or two.

This first one I've heard before ... many many years ago, but it wasn't until I read Chuck's recent post that I thought of it again. I like it. Hope you do! It's called "Digging the Garden" ... ...

An old Italian lived alone in New Jersey. He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was difficult work as the ground was very hard. Vincent (his only son), who used to help him, was in prison and unavailable.

In an effort to describe his predicament, he wrote a letter to his son. Dear Vincent, I am feeling pretty sad because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. If you were here, I know you'd be happy to dig the plot for me just like in the old days. Love, Papa

A few days later, he received a letter from his son. Dear Pop, Don't dig up that garden. That's where the bodies are buried. Love, Vinnie

At 4am the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived. After digging up the entire area without finding any bodies, they apologized to the old man and left.

His next letter from Vincent read, Dear Pop, Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances. Love you, Vinnie

This next one, now, is one of my all-time favorites, but I don't know how to put in writing a sound that is an integral part of the punch line. So before I begin, I thought it would be best to try and describe the sound for you. (I can only make this sound, for some reason or another, out of the right side of my mouth!) To begin, you kind of clench your teeth and smile. Then, slapping your tongue against your clenched teeth towards the back of your mouth, you can make a sort of clicking sound. You have to make this clicking sound four times ... two times quickly in succession, followed by another two times - again quickly - in succession. I lost you, didn't I? If I didn't - did you practice 'clicking'? - lose you, I'll indicate this sound by (and now I'll have to think about how I'll write this sound. Oh, dear!) "** **" ... ... will that work? It'd better, or this joke will fall flatter than whatever it is you decide it will 'fall flatter than'.

All right, here goes. It seems that there was this really 'sweet young thing' who was about to get married. She was a family favorite, their pride and joy, their pure and innocent one. A real beauty, she and her intended had been a 'couple' for as many years as anyone could remember, and everyone who had ever known them was looking forward to attending and being a part of the blessed event.

It's the day of the wedding. The bride-to-be is in her gown, but nervous as all get out. She asks her grandmother, who has been married for 60-some odd years, to wait while she shoos everyone else out. She says that she wants to ask her grandmother a very important question.

OK. Everyone has gone. She and her grandmother are all alone now. The grandmother, who dearly loves her grandchild, is looking upon her with the most loving and kindly eyes and waiting patiently for 'the question'.

"Grandma," she finally begins, "you and Grandpa have been married for a long long time now, and you seem to be so happy -- -- -- Grandma, I don't know if you know this, but we have never 'been to bed' together. We wanted to 'save each other' for marriage, but now I don't even know what to expect. I mean, I know what to expect, but what I really mean is how often? how many? how .. ..?" (She's really stumbling around while she's trying to get all of this out.)

Grandma stops her by gently placing her fingers on her lips and - with a twinkle in her eyes - says, "Darling, I know what you're trying to ask ... ... When you're first married, you just can't keep your hands off of each other. You can't get enough of each other. And that's perfectly natural. But then, after a while, little by little, the passion - the extreme need for one another - ebbs, and you'll find that - over time, things will settle down ... ... When you've been married as long as we have, you're doing it maybe once a month and," she paused, "** **, tonight's the night!"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A bit of interesting trivia

Steven, in his comment on my "Extended bits & pieces ..." post just a couple of days ago, advised me of a 'cool story from waaaaaaay back when'.

Well, I finally found it, and it is a neat story! It was published in the Washington Post just two days ago. (I don't know how Steven gets all of this stuff on such a timely basis, but I'm sure glad he does!)

The headline reads "Hidden Message Found in Lincoln Pocket Watch". You can read all about it here. Fascinating!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fair warning!

I received an e-mail earlier today from one of my bridge friends, Dianna, alerting me to a potentially deadly virus that might attack your computer if you open the attachment.

Now, I know that all y'all have received (and are receiving daily, whether you like it or not) e-mails with attachments that you are uncertain as to whether or not you should open.

Here's the general guideline you should follow ... ... ... If you are uncertain as to whether or not you should open it, delete it - the whole thing, UNOPENED! If it's the President of the United States, then you can rest assured he will know of and find a better way to personally communicate with you.

The particular attachment that Dianna was referring to was from "Your United Postal Service", but there are many such others out there. Be careful, dear ones. If you do not personally know who the sender is, just delete the whole friggin' thing, OK?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Extended bits & pieces ...

This might turn out to be a rather long post as I have a number of different subjects to cover. I'll alphabetize the categories as per usual so you'll be able to scroll down and catch the ones you're interested in.

Baseball ...

We're in the middle of the "spring training shuffle". That's the dance where players are inserted into the lineup for an inning or two and then, before you can even register their names or what positions they play, they're taken out for looks at other prospects. When I was driving a taxicab, I listened to those pre-season games with a passion and took diligent notes so that - by the time opening day came around, no name was unfamiliar to me and I was ready with my own list of who I thought should be on the team.

Not so this year. I've listened in dribs and drabs here and there only, but will have the games on more often now and start paying better attention as we get closer to the date when the season starts up for real next month.

There've been a couple of significant changes that I've noted for sure ... 1) Brad Ausmus (catcher) is gone. He's back home in California playing for I forget whom. We had him for many years and I, for one, will miss him. A nice guy, and he brought a lot of leadership and stability to the team ... 2) Mike Hampton (pitcher) is back and has been given the nod over Roy Oswalt, it seems, for opening day. Two things I don't like about this. The first is that he's back at all! The Astros have a long history of letting our better ballplayers go just as they're entering their prime and then bringing them back when they're in their declining years. Such is the case with Mike Hampton. Plus, I don't like the fact that Roy's not currently scheduled to pitch that first game. It seems to me very much like a slap in Roy's face.

That'll actually work out better for me, TV-watching wise, because - as some of you might remember - I don't have cable and rely on Channel 20 (local) to show the games. Last year Ch. 20 had every Sunday game on, regardless of where it was being played. This year - outside of the first two weeks, where they will be airing three games - only the first Sunday of each succeeding month's game will be televised. Boy, that's a bummer!

The upside of this is I'll be able to watch Roy pitch on April 7th, the second of our 3-game set with the Cubbie Dubbie Dewies. And am I ever looking forward to that series! Especially considering what happened last year after Ike. I'm still miffed about that scenario!!

Cockroaches ...

Saw the first one inside my house in months last night. Didn't have my killer spray immediately handy, and by the time I found it he/she had disappeared. Well, it's handy now!

Dancing With the Stars ...

Did anyone else watch the first two hours of season eight last night? I did! What fun!! There's a cowboy by the name of Ty competing, and my ears really perked up when he said, "You're never completely ready. It just becomes your turn." I thought that was profound, and I wanted to share it with you in case you missed it. Could probably do a whole post (or two) on just that one statement. (Btw, he didn't do very well. He and his partner might be one of the bottom two who have a "dance off" next week to see which couple will be eliminated. That's a new feature this year. I like it!)

Also entered is the co-founder of Apple computer. It will be interesting to see if he makes it into the second round. Says, with just a huge smile on his face, that he's having the time of his life, but it's obvious that this is an entirely new experience for him - and one to which he might not be able to adapt.

Shawn Johnson is in there. Remember her? The Olympic champion in gymnastics? At 17, she's the youngest - and perhaps the tiniest, at 4'10" - ever to compete. She did very well.

"Dancing" is rife with commercials, so whenever one came on I muted the sound and listened to the Astros. Btw, that first two hours is being rerun here in Houston Saturday night. I won't be watching again, but if you're interested you should check with your local programming guide.

Other TV programs ...

Is anyone watching "American Idol" this year? Not I. No interest whatsoever. They lost me when they added a fourth judge. How is it possible to have an even number of judges? I mean, I ask you!

Another series that has almost lost me entirely is "Smallville". Can hardly believe I just wrote that, but it's true. Getting too 'far out' for me. "House" is another one that I seem to have less and less interest in. I guess I'm becoming tired of a doctor who (seemingly) is more concerned about his own problems than those of his patients. He's brilliant, the stories are well-written and researched, but maybe I've seen enough already!

A series I am sticking with is "Ghost Whisperer". Convoluted as all get out, but the overall premise (as well as each individual episode) continues - for me, at least - to be quite alluring. "Masterpiece Classic" (PBS) is still among my favorites. "David Copperfield" is upcoming in this series.

So what's new for me? You're probably not going to believe this, but I have become interested in "Lost" ... isn't that a semi-shocker?? And "Two and a Half Men" is fast becoming a 'must watch' for me. Have you caught any of those episodes? Hilarious!

Wendy Booker update ...

She posted yesterday. Hooray! But boy, does she ever sound tired of what must now be a real grind. That's what it takes, I'm sure, to succeed at the level to which she has set her sights. Not for me, but more power to her!

I don't think she'll be in Nepal for another three weeks yet - more towards the very end of this month. I'll keep watching her blog for you. However, if you'd like to read more about her everyday activities - and I think she's now back in Colorado (altho she doesn't say where she is), here's the link to her latest post.

Where did it go? ...

I lost an hour Saturday night without even realizing it. (I still can't get my mind wrapped around these new dates for time changes. Is anyone else having this problem?) I was an hour late Sunday afternoon for the bi-monthly critique meeting of my group of writers. Ye Gods!

The good news is that these critiques have provided a much needed incentive for me to actively work on my autobiography as it relates to my many years of taxicab driving.

Well, that's it, folks! Long, wasn't it? How's your day starting out? Very well, I hope. Talk atcha later!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fun and games

Liverpool Street Station - January 15, 2009

Actually, thousands auditioned for this commercial and 400 were chosen. Lots of rehearsals were held, the final two in the evenings just before the actual event. That sure would have been fun to see. Surprising, but fun!

Are you as smart as a fifth grader? Go here, take the test, and find out for yourself.

Excitement in the Swimming Pool ...

A rich Florida man decided he wanted to throw a party around the pool in the back yard of his mansion. So he invited all of his friends and neighbors including Leroy, the only Redneck in the neighborhood.

Everyone was having a good time, especially Leroy, who was drinking, dancing, eating shrimp, oysters and BBQ, and flirting with all the women. At the height of the party the host said, "I have a ten foot man-eating alligator in the pool, and I'll give a million dollars to anyone who has the nerve to jump in. That is, if he lives to collect!"

No sooner were the words out of his mouth when there was a loud splash. He turned around and saw Leroy in the pool! And then there he was, fighting the alligator and kicking its ass! He was jabbing it in the eyes with his thumbs, throwing punches, using head butts and choke holds, biting the alligator on the tail, and flipping it through the air like some kind of judo instructor. The water was churning and splashing everywhere. Both Leroy and the gator were screaming and raising hell.

Finally Leroy strangled the alligator and let it just float to the top like a dimestore goldfish. Then he slowly climbed out of the pool while everyone stared at him in disbelief.

"Well, you just earned yourself a million dollars," the host said.

"No, that's OK. I don't want it."

"Man, I have to give you something! How about half a million bucks, then?"

"No, thanks. I still don't want it," said Leroy.

The host then said, "Come on, I insist. That was amazing! How about a new Porsche, a Rolex, and some stock options?"

Again Leroy said no. Confused, the rich man asked, "Well then, what do you want?"

"I want the name of the sumbich who pushed me in!"

Sunday, March 8, 2009

On giving ... (part two) ...

When I was driving a taxicab full-time, it seemed as tho someone was always asking me for money. If I stopped for gas, some panhandler would come up to me and want to wash my windshield or help me fill my tank. If I was just sitting at a cab stand, someone would ask me if I could 'help them out'. If I were to stop at a store for groceries and someone saw me get out of the cab, I'd be asked for a dollar or two to tide them over - either that or bus fare.

Cab drivers are always being hit up for money. Why? Cab drivers have money! It's basically a cash business.

I made at least two bank deposits every day; between 10am and noon, and then again just before the branch closed at six. If I had cash on me from the night before, there'd be a deposit just as soon as the bank opened. I knew just about where every branch of my bank was located in the city of Houston. Mine was a familiar face at probably ten different drive-throughs.

The cab stand at Hobby Airport was perhaps the worst offender. No panhandlers, but other cab drivers would approach me. There would have been a death in the family, and money was needed to help with funeral expenses. Someone was ill or had a stroke and couldn't work. There'd been a wreck. Any number of reasons, mostly good ones, but over the years - it was a combination of many different things occurring that brought on the change - I found myself hardening. I even told a friend once, "I think I've lost some of my humanity."

The cab-driving community is a family, but you have to pick and choose those whom you wish to include as close members. Otherwise, they'll just suck you dry! Does that sound harsh or inhuman? Well, if it does, then I guess it is, but I needed to make money, not give it away! After all, that's why I was out there 24/7. I was trying to get my townhouse paid off and get myself out of debt as much as I possibly could while I was still 'young' and had enough energy to work that hard.

I almost always gave if it was Freeman who asked me. Who's Freeman? One of the hardest-working people I've ever had the privilege to meet. While almost all of the other cab drivers (including myself) were idling away the hours at Hobby reading, napping, playing chess or dominoes, or just sitting around shooting the breeze, exchanging/debating the latest news or just plain gossiping (and yes, cab drivers are among the world's worst gossips!), there Freeman would be washing cars, selling pickup tickets, barbecuing, providing ice and soft drinks ... you name it, he'd be trying to make money doing it.

Not the brightest bulb in the universe - he didn't understand where his name came from, for example, but he was honest as the day is long and would literally have given you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it more than he! He always had a good story to share about whom he was collecting for, and made me feel as tho I were an integral part of his family.

Once, many years ago when I was teaching full-time, I was asked to contribute to the United Way campaign in my school. I'd heard about the good that United Way had done in my community and was fully intending to make a contribution. However, when the 'collector' approached me with his hand out smugly saying, "We've always had 100% participation," something went 'ding ding ding ding' in my mind, and I found myself filled with animosity and resentment.

He didn't say, "It's for a good cause." Nor did he say, "They've added 'so & so' or 'such & such' to their list of worthy organizations to be helped this year, and I feel honored to have been asked to approach each of you and tell you about the difference this group is making in --------'s lives."

I didn't feel as tho I was being 'asked'. Rather, it felt like I was "expected" to contribute and was being dared not to! I took the dare and declined, thereby ruining the school's "100% participation" record.

It's all in the asking for me.

Let's go back to what I posted yesterday. This story is so poignant and the children are definitely innocent victims here and certainly very deserving of any and all funds collected for their upbringing and education, but my first reaction - particularly when I read that the union was involved - was, "Are those 100,000 cabbies being coerced into 'giving' or are they giving because they want to?"

Saturday, March 7, 2009

On giving ... (part one) ...

The lead story today on one of my favorite sources for ideas was, "Almost 100,000 New York City cabbies are being asked to donate one day's tips - an estimated $15-20 each - to help raise and educate 13-year old twin boys whose parents were killed in a hit-and-run accident on Valentine's Day this year.

The children's father was a livery cab driver. He and his wife, Egyptian immigrants," the article goes on to say, "were killed when their cab was broadsided by a speeding luxury car that ran a red light on a Staten Island boulevard. Records showed that the other driver's license had been either suspended or revoked nearly two dozen times since 2005."

Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy! This story brings up so many questions* on so many different levels!! Well, the first thing I did was Google "livery cab driver - New York City", because I had no idea what a 'livery cab driver' was. This is what I found.

*Just a couple of my questions ... 1) Why was she with him in the cab? "Side riders" are illegal in Houston. 2) If they know who the other person is who was driving the 'luxury car', why isn't his/her insurance company paying through the schnoz for the now-orphaned children's upbringing and education? 3.) How is it possible that this manslaughterer was still driving and on the road?!?

The New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers organized a "Tips for the Twins" fundraiser, and plans to make this a yearly event.

*Another question ... 4) Why? If every one of those 100,000 donates even one dollar, there's $100,000 smackeroos. If every one donates ten dollars - and of course they won't, there's a cool million if my math is correct. And if each succeeding year one is "asked" to donate, what then? Will it become a matter of the union taking it out of their dues? It wouldn't be unheard of! (My anti-union prejudice is showing here, I admit it.)

This story just tears your heart out, probably. It did mine!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Climb On!

I first heard of Wendy Booker on May 5, 2008, when Charles Osgood's "Sunday Morning" show ran an extensive feature on her. Took a few notes and added two of her web sites to my "Ideas for future posts" folder, which I checked back with every couple of weeks or so to see what was happening.

Lately, I've been checking much more often because she's supposed to either be in Nepal or on her way there right now to gather all of her Sherpas* together, register her climbing expedition party, and begin the acclimatization and rigorous training necessary to make a successful ascent of Mount Everest, #7 and the last in her quest to reach the summit of the highest mountain on every continent.

This will be her third visit to Nepal. The first was last spring, when her party traveled there to train for and then climb Mount Cho Oyu in a sort of 'practice run' for Everest. Cho Oyu (26,900') is located in Tibet, approximately 18 miles west of Mount Everest in the Himalayas. That trip was cut short when Wendy succumbed to some sort of illness, which at first was thought to be appendicitis, was helicoptered off of the mountain and then returned to the States.

Wendy and her party returned to Nepal last August - after the Olympics, only to discover that they would not now be given the necessary official permits to climb Cho Oyu. She writes in this post (8/31/08) of her frustration and uncertainty as to which mountain - or indeed, even in which country their expedition would be allowed to proceed.

The very next day, however, she optimistically writes here about their arrival in Kathmandu and registering their climbing expedition party. On September 4th, she reported on her blog site that they received news the Chinese would allow Brooke (her climbing partner) and her into Tibet but not their Sherpas.

Wendy decided they didn't want to try and climb in the Himalayas without their beloved Sherpas, and so another mountain was designated - Baruntse (23,389') in Nepal.

The only real drawback with this site, as I understand it, is that training with oxygen masks is not required - as it would be for Mount Everest @ 29,029'.

So, what has she been doing since ascending Mount Koscuiszko (Australia) in November? Well, in January she was in Oregon, training for the Khumbu ice of Everest. You can read about that training here.

In February, she was (supposedly) at Mt. Ixta in Mexico, although she didn't post anything on her blog site about her training or experiences there.

Why am I so interested in and intrigued by Wendy Booker?? Good question. Three reasons ... 1) She's a woman. 2) She's in her 50's. 3) She has multiple sclerosis.

She has successfully scaled six of the seven highest mountains on each continent ... only Mount Everest remains, the highest ... ... ...

In 2004, Wendy managed to reach the summit of 20,320' Mt. McKinley - also known as Denali - on her second attempt, thus going on record as the only woman living with MS to conquer McKinley.

Since then, she has successfully ascended Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa (2005), Mt. Elbrus in Russia (2006), Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina (2007), and Mts. Vinson Massif in Antarctica and Koscuiszko in Australia (2008).

What in the world might have inspired Wendy to aspire to such a thing?? Another very good question! In March of 2008, in this post, she talks a bit about her 87-year old mother who purchased a computer for the very first time and says she has to look no further than her own mother for inspiration. She writes, "How wonderful to still have an adventure around the next corner even well into your eighties. I hope I too never stop learning because if we stop learning we stop growing. I want to grow forever just like my mother."

I am somewhat uneasily awaiting news. There could have been airport delays and whatnot - things beyond our (or Wendy's) control. But still, I'm a touch anxious to see another post soon from Wendy telling us all what is currently going on.

*Would you like more information about Sherpas? Wiki has a bunch of good info for you, and Wendy's post in October, where she wrote extensively about Sherpas here should be helpful, as well -- particularly as she tells us all from her own perspective how much each one contributes to the success (or failure) of each mission.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The land 'Down Under'

In today's post, Craig - who has an absolutely delightful sense of humor, re-submitted "Come to Australia" by Scared Weird Little Guys. It's hilarious!

He also included a link to the "Deadly Dozen", and of course I had to follow it*.

[*Here's your link. Now, this'll get you to the general site. Once you're there, click on 'replay "deadly..." gallery' at the upper left. That should do it.]

As I looked all the photos of deadly spiders, snakes, jellyfish, etc. -- and by the way, do you happen to know what this is?

Photos of this creature were shown in the YouTube video you just watched (twice!). But just in case you don't remember, it is the blue-ringed octopus. Ain't it purty? -- I couldn't help but think of Wendy Booker's trip to Australia last November and her subsequent successful ascent to the top of Mount Koscuiszko, #6 in her quest to climb the highest mountain on each continent.

Unfortunately, the skies were not all that clear the day they climbed and they were momentarily uncertain when they reached the top that they had!

How ever did I get from the "deadly dozen" to Wendy Booker?? Good question.

She has her own blog site, and I thought I remembered reading about how she had been bitten by a spider and then incapacitated for a period of time. I didn't think it was Australia, but I had to take some time to go back through some of her posts to check it out. I was right. It wasn't while she was in Australia. It occurred back here in the good old US of A!

But let's get back to Australia. There'll be much more about Wendy in my next post, OK? She's quite a special person!

Just a couple of stories from her blog about her experiences down there in OZ.

One of the animals she had really wanted to catch an eyeball on was a kangaroo. In spite of her many car trips throughout the countryside in an attempt to be successful, alas, there was not a single one to be seen! She describes some of her thoughts on driving and the critters they were alerted to be on the lookout for here.

In another post, she talks about their experiences using the GPS system ... this one in conjunction with trying to arrive at the airport on time for a flight out to New Zealand. She wrote that when they arrived forty minutes late, the person they spoke to - in 'typical Aussie fashion' - said, "No worries, Mate! You're not late. This flight left yesterday and you weren't on it!"

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

James Galway

I was on my way back home from delivering that check I talked about yesterday - and no, I didn't stop at that other store (another time perhaps) - and was listening to classical music on the radio when I heard them announce that James Galway would be performing with the Houston Symphony tonight in Jones Hall.

Boy, that brought back a few memories! I saw him perform - I guess - about thirty years ago now. I was mesmerized the whole time.

I couldn't wait to hear which of his hundreds of recordings the station would air. When they chose Bach (not one of my favorite composers) I was more than a little disappointed but listened, anyway, because after all it was James Galway!

Who's James Galway? Well, he's an Irishman who has earned the nickname, "The Man With the Golden Flute." I have selected three YouTube videos to share with you today. The first two include stunning photography, which allows one's mind to dreamily wander off. Remember this post and come on back to it and listen again and again in times of stress. Very peaceful and calming.

Here's one of my favorites, "Shenandoah" ...

And another, Massenet's "Meditation" ...

Are you fully relaxed and about to fall asleep? Here's "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" to help bring you back to a full state of alertness ...

Wasn't that fun? I regret that the first part of the video really doesn't show his fingers flying over the keys nearly as much as I would have liked, but the last part does! Yowsers!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tuesday morning

I just got back home from driving one of my old-timey customers to IAH. I mean, OLD-timey! (Not in terms of how old she is, but how long it had been since I last picked her up.) I had forgotten who she was even yesterday when she called wanting to be picked early this morning!!

Then we got to talking and pretty soon there I was, screeching my head off (I'm like that ... Chuck and Whalechaser will attest to it!) when I realized who she was.

ANYhoo, I stopped by Kroger's on the way back home to check out any grape salad activities. Sure enuf, there was grape salad on display @$7.99/lb, but you should have seen the grapes! Less than pitiful!! No one was waiting on me, not that I was interested in purchasing any. I mean, they looked awful!!!

I looked around for a familiar face and saw one close by who, unbeknownst to me, had been surreptitiously watching to see what I would do. (Everyone at that deli, just about, who has been around for any period of time knows me and how much I love their grape salad.)

She came over and asked, with a semi-twinkle in her eye, "Is no one waiting on you?" I answered, "You've got to be ******** me! Why EVER would I want to be waited on? Have you seen those grapes?!?"

"Why, yes," she said, "is something the matter?" After what I was afraid would turn out to be just an interminable period of silence while we stared each other down, we both burst out laughing. I mean, it was funny! (As in a "if you don't laugh, you'll cry" kind of way.) Then she extended our mutual hilarity by calling over a co-worker for a 'customer service consultation'.

Well, time for frivolity was over and we got down to the more serious question of what's going on with the grape crops this year. She told me they'd tried the big fat grapes with seeds, but then customers had complained so much that they had discontinued that option.

She whispered in my ear another place she wanted me to try. Well, I might try that other place tomorrow after I deliver my six-month car insurance premium, but I'm not liking that option, I'll be the first to tell you! More later.

Meanwhile, I'd like to share with you a story my customer told me. This is not a joke. You should not be preparing to laugh.

Seems she got a call a couple of weeks ago from her mother, who lives in Indiana, saying that her dad was having a stroke. (At this point, I interrupted her discourse by saying, "Your mother must have been in a panic. Otherwise, why would she be calling you?!?" "Just wait," she says, "to hear the rest of the story.")

"When will the ambulance be there?" she asked her mother. "That's the problem," said her mother, "he won't go in an ambulance. He says he doesn't need to go to the hospital. In fact, he doesn't even think he should see a doctor."

[Just me now, OK? Why are men - and I realize that not every single one is - like that? God bless their hearts. I mean, we love them dearly, but why oh why oh why are they like that? Can someone please give me even a semi-reasonable explanation?!?]

My customer got her things together in one **** of a hurry while her husband called the airlines to make sure she could be on the next flight north. Meanwhile, back in Indiana her mother was calling yet another of her children - this one living in Florida (a son) - to see if he could persuade her husband to get into an ambulance should one arrive. No luck that direction, either!

[I'm sure all y'all know that the sooner a stroke victim can be properly attended to the less likelihood there will be of permanent damage.]

So what happened?

Well, the ambulance arrived. The husband (my customer's father) refused to get in. The attendants administered such aid as he would accept (mainly Aspirin), and then followed the wife (my customer's mother) as she drove her husband to the emergency room entrance at the nearest hospital.

My customer was told that 50% of all stroke victims refuse ambulance service ... 50%! !!!

She (my customer) and I talked almost non-stop all the way to the airport and I never did get my wits together enough at the time to ask if the percentages differed between the sexes, so I have no further information to pass on in this regard.

The upshot is that her dad is actually doing pretty well. He's home from the hospital and crotchety as all get out ... not his time yet, obviously! The stroke affected the back side of his brain and his vision is affected. Cranky as ****, or so my customer said.

And so there you have it ... the story of my day so far. How are you doing?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sunday morning

About three hours ago I ate some of a fresh batch of chili, which was particularly appropriate since we have experienced nearly a 50-degree drop in temperature readings in the last day and a half. Brrr!

Then I checked in with some of my favorites, and was delighted to see a blog post that included sacred music by Russian composer Georgii Sviridov. I feel a great sense of peace whenever I listen to this wonderfully inspirational music. There is a quiet reverence throughout, and I view it full screen while listening. The photography is glorious!

That piece reminds me a little of a Gregorian chant, which is a form of plainsong whose origins are a bit hazy. Certainly it was commonly found in Monastic orders. Some very early sheet music still exists and here, scripted in square notation from the 14th-15th century, is the Introit Gaudeamus Omnes.

Wiki has an extensive writeup on the history of Gregorian chants in case you're intrigued and want to learn more. If you'd like to hear a couple of other Russian Orthodox chants, as sung by monks and metropolitan choirs of Kiev, go to Steven's post and scroll down to the second video. Thank you, Steven, for re-awakening my awareness of this genre!

Meanwhile, here's the Gregorian chant Benedictinos. As with the first video, the photography is lovely and full screen viewing while you're listening is highly recommended.

Because I was up cooking very early this morning, I'll be hitting the pillow again shortly. While I was up and at 'em, however, I happened to catch a movie I've seen only once before. I like it!

It's called "Morgan's Ferry" and its most well-known star is Kelly McGillis, a "lonely middle-aged Southerner" (Vonee) whose remote farm three escaped convicts enter uninvited. The story revolves around their efforts to get to the ferry and out of the state before the Sheriff can catch up with them, her independence and indomitableness, and a most unlikely romance between Sam - one of the escapees, played by Billy Zane (a 'hunk') - and her.

Roscoe Lee Browne, who plays "Pebo" - a blind man who has a mule and wagon and does grocery shopping for Vonee, turns in an excellent performance. It's a great story. Not the most happy of endings, but very satisfying overall.

Now, tonight I'll be glued to my television set watching "Rain Man" for only the second time ever. Won't that be a treat? Can you believe it's been 21 years since this movie first came out?!? I'm gettin' old, folks.

Hope your Sunday is starting out well. Talk atcha later!