Monday, August 31, 2009

A matter of interpretation, I guess ... ...

[Thursday, September 3rd, 8am ... ... I have been asked by "blacky333" (see comments section) to pull this post. Either that or change the deceased's name. Evidently when the deceased's name is Googled, my post comes up first, which is terribly unfortunate if the googler is looking for information on their loved one or dear friend. I apologize to 'blacky333' and anyone else who read this as it initially published and took offense. I meant no harm or disrespect to her (the deceased's) memory. I wish that 'blacky333' had read some of the comments. For the first time ever, I started off my own comment section with a critical comment which began with, "Where do you get off, Goldenrod, criticizing an obituary that is well-written and seems to accurately sum up this woman's philosophy, 'I did it my way!'" I made a couple of other comments in that section later, as well, which pretty accurately sum up how I feel about this whole 'obituary thing'. I invite 'blacky333' to read them.

I have since deleted (hopefully!) all names referenced in the Chronicle's obituary (copied below) for this woman, and apologize again for any hurt feelings. None were intended, I assure you. However, I might have paid better attention to how many times (the deceased) and her family's names were mentioned in the Chronicle. I guess it's true, then - what I've heard, that the Google search engines will pick up and prominently categorize your article if a name or particular phrase is mentioned enough times. In the future, before I hit "publish post", I will make every attempt to be more sensitive. I will endeavor to read it one last time with these questions foremost in my mind, "Is my meaning clear?" "Will I - albeit unintentionally - hurt someone else's feelings by publishing this post?" (Sometimes, however, it is my intention to show another side of a subject, and that side might even include statements illustrating some of my thoughts that could accurately be interpreted as angry. Again, please see the comments section.)

It is my sincere hope that 'blacky333', even tho she's not from Texas, will be able to attend the gathering in celebration of her friend's life on September 19th.]

How would YOU interpret the following obituary, published in the Houston Chronicle - our one and only surviving 'rag' - just one day ago?

(Name deleted) died peacefully at home August 26, 2009 after a long difficult struggle with smoking-related emphysema. Though this disease robbed her of her energy she never lost her upbeat, fun-loving attitude and she pushed herself to remain as active as possible. (First name deleted) grew up in Kennett Missouri, and graduated from the University of Missouri where she was the president of her sorority, Delta Delta Delta. In January of 1965 she moved to Houston TX with her husband (name deleted) and daughter (name deleted). (First name deleted) loved Houston from the first day. While living in Houston she had a very successful real estate career. Her life ended in her beloved home in Riverview Place with the support of her friends, neighbors, caregivers, family and daughter. It can be said that (first name deleted) lived and died in her own way and had a life she loved. (First name deleted) was preceded in death by (name deleted) her husband of more than 50 years. She is survived by her only child (name deleted). (First name deleted)'s philosophy was "Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves". In lieu of flowers please treat yourself to some luxury, laugh and drink a toast to (first name deleted). She will be smiling down on you with that charming laugh. A reception celebrating her life will be held Saturday, September 19, 2009 from 2-5 PM at her home. All her friends are invited.

I do not make it a habit of reading obituaries. This particular one was brought to my attention by our local American Contract Bridge League's (ACBL) unit website. Apparently, (first name deleted) was a regular player in the duplicate bridge world here for some years, but - try as I might, when looking at or studying her photo - I don't remember her.

I guess some of my questions are, "Who wrote this obituary?" "Was the writer someone who knew her?" "Of what cause did her husband precede her in death?" "As she was - supposedly - a bridge player active in the bridge world, why was that fact not even mentioned in the obituary?" "All her friends are invited to her home" ... where? In Riverview Place? (Not that I would be attending. I don't remember this woman!)

If you'd care to leave any, I'd like to hear your comments. I will add my own response later, for any of you who are interested in hearing what I have to say, so please DO remember to check the little box next to where it says "Email follow-up comments to ... ...". I will only say at this juncture that my first reaction was one of anger, since tempered (of course) by my writing this post.

Lady Astor and Sir Winston Churchill

In her comment on one of my recent posts, Tammy wrote that she had become intrigued and then spent "waaaaaay too much" time delving into stories about Lady Astor.

I'm often guilty of doing this type of thing myself. In fact, oftentimes I'll get started on a post and then find myself completely sidetracked by my research, memories, thoughts, imagination - something, so I fully understand what Tammy meant.

She found one story about when Lady Astor and Winston Churchill met at a social function. (They had a history, it seems, of not getting along very well.) Lady Astor went up to him and said, "Sir Winston, if you were my husband, I'd poison your coffee." To which he replied, "Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

That one reminded me (here I go again!) of some others I've heard over the years. I'm not sure if all of them can be attributed to Winston Churchill or not, but they definitely tickle my funny bone!

[I was going to say which of the following stories is my favorite, but I don't have a favorite. I like them all.]

It seems that Sir Winston was walking down the street one day and paused to admire and perhaps say a word about an infant in a baby carriage. He was taken aback at the ugliness of the child and was, for a few moments, at a loss for words. Finally, however, he came up with, "My, that IS a baby!"

Another time, at a party, Sir Winston had been imbibing a bit more than usual and was showing the effects. One of the other guests - a woman not on his list of favorites - came up to him and said, "YOU, sir, are drunk!" To which he replied, "And you, madam, are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober."

[I love to hear the English language spoken by someone who knows how to say in just a word or two exactly what they mean. Years ago, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, I clung to her every word. Similarly, I used to listen with interest to members of Parliament go on and on, often insulting - accompanied by keen wit - their colleagues. Great fun!]

This last story is a result of Winston Churchill being criticized for ending a sentence with a preposition. (Altho I first heard this more than 50 years ago, I've never forgotten it, and I still find myself going back over sentences I've written just to make sure they don't end with a preposition. Ha! Think I might have gotten lax about this lately, however.)

Anyway, Sir Winston was upset over the negative remark and responded loudly, "Criticism is one thing up with which I will not put!"

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Thirty-five years or so ago, I woke up one morning, sat up and discovered that I could not keep my eyes open without the room swirling around me.

I thought, "I must have sat up too quickly." I decided to lie back down and try that act again. The next time, however, I opened my eyes without sitting up. The same thing happened. The room just swirled around and around. I thought I was going to have to throw up. The dizziness stopped only when I closed my eyes again, but even so it took a few seconds to subside.

"My God!" I thought. "What's going on?" I was scared, really scared. Somehow, tho, I managed to roll off the bed onto the floor, knock the telephone receiver off its cradle and dial "0".

[This was in the good old days when, if you dialed "0", a real live person actually came on. I doubt if I would have been able to dial "911".]

I told the operator that something was really wrong, that I didn't know what it was, and asked her if she could possibly call my husband at work to have him come home and get me. She asked what the number was. I probably couldn't remember the number in my befuddled and bedraggled state of mind, but told her where he worked and his name.

Somehow or another, she was able to reach him. He came home, got me dressed and out to the car. I couldn't stand. I couldn't walk. He must have carried me. I don't remember. He would have placed a very large bath towel on my lap during our trip to the doctor's office, probably, but I don't remember. All I remember for sure was thinking every second that I was going to throw up. Oddly enough, I never did!

When we got to my doctor's office, a nurse was waiting outside with a wheelchair. I remember being wheeled in, but that's about the last thing I remember. Things happened pretty quickly after that.

Dr. Cowling's office was right next door to Sharpstown Hospital, and that's where I woke up fully a day or so later, feeling perfectly fine and ready to get the heck on out of there and go home! I don't remember any tests being run or drugs being administered, none of that stuff!!

You know, I've thought briefly about that episode maybe a time or two over the years, but it wasn't until this past week or so that it all came back full bore to the front of my memory banks.

I had called my friend, Jennie, just to see what the news was her way and how she was continuing to recuperate after her latest cancer surgery, and was distressed to hear her tell me of something 'new' going on in her life ... an episode of dizziness - she did throw up! - that was completely outside her realm of previous experience. As you might imagine, she was very interested in hearing what had happened to me years ago.

Well, the upshot of this whole story is that an MRI detected a benign tumor in the right side of her brain and she is scheduled for surgery Wednesday to have it removed. I spoke with her on the phone yesterday. She didn't really have much time to talk. Relatives are arriving from everywhere to try and give their support.

She's scared.

[I've had to pause - every so often during the creation of this post - to close my eyes and say yet another prayer for my dear friend who has undergone so much. My logical mind tells me that this tumor is benign, that this next surgery should be a 'piece of cake' - and I don't mean in the slightest way to belittle the fact that another part of her body will be bored into and an unwelcome intruder removed ... ... I guess what I really want to say is, "Get rid of it, Jennie. It's benign! It's 'nothing' in the larger scheme of things!!"

But this time it almost sounds like she's 'had it' with her body being investigated, poked at, bored into and carved up like --- sorry, I can't finish the simile w/o introducing something macabre, and that's the last place I want to go with this post!]

She's scared, yet she took the time to send me a message explaining that her e-mails might be on the wane for a while and signed it, "Love, Jennie".

One of Jennie's more recent e-mails had the subject of "Friendship" ... it's worth sharing. I'm going to copy here for you some of the (imo) more important points.

Take the time to live! Do not value the things you have in your life, but value who you have in your life.

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Learn to write your hurts in the sand, where the winds of forgiveness can erase them away, and to carve your benefits in stone.

We all love and care about you, Jennie.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ichabod or Ebenezer?

I feel so blessed - SO blessed! - to be able to share with you Dr. James A. Wharton's sermon, given just a few years ago at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary's centennial celebration.

Initially, I was under the impression that this sermon was available on the web. As I discovered, however - this being some 6+ years later, it is not ... ... and so, I spent some time trying to reach the 'powers that be' at the seminary in Austin to see how I might be able to obtain a copy of it.

You might recall that I first mentioned Dr. Wharton in some prominence in this post, wherein I shared not one of my 'transformative moments', but one of his!

We have since gone back and forth - the seminary and I - leaving voice mails and so forth, but today I feel an almost unbelievable sense of wonder and absolute delight in being able to share with you Dr. Wharton's sermon.

Today, I spoke to both Dr. Wharton and his wife on the phone. They are currently residing in the Carolinas ... a beautiful part of our world ... and he very graciously gave me his permission to publish his sermon on my blog. And so, without further ado, here it is ... ...

Ichabod or Ebenezer?
By James A. Wharton, former Professor of Old Testament, Austin Seminary
A sermon preached on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, October 1, 2002.

Text: I Samuel 4:10-22; 7:7-12

So . . . Who shall it be? Ichabod or Ebenezer? What is at stake here is nothing less than the freedom of God. Are we to worship a God who is captive to our traditions and our ideas and our feelings about God? Or . . . and this is a huge or . . . are we called to worship the God of whom Scripture tells, the one who is gloriously free from us, the one who shatters our most sacred preconceptions about who God must be, and yet the one who chooses to be with us, and for us, in surprising faithfulness to all that has gone before?

Ichabod? Or Ebenezer? Washington Irving and Charles Dickens have made it difficult for us to see anything profound in the choice between these two weird sounding names. Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow . . . the quintessential wimp. Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol . . . the quintessential cheapskate.

Wimpy and self-serving as we ourselves may be, nobody wants to be an Ichabod or an Ebenezer, and there is not much to choose between them. It's been a long time since Presbyterians could sing "Here I Raise My Ebenezer" without laughing.

It strikes me that the one hundredth birthday party of Austin Seminary is a grand occasion to take a fresh look at Ichabod or Ebenezer. To face again, as these texts invite us to do, the huge question about the freedom of God. As I see it, this is the watershed question that confronts the church of Jesus Christ in our time and place.

The story of Ichabod begins with Eli, the priest at Shiloh . . . a man who devoted his entire life to the worship and service of the Lord of Hosts, who was radically present to God's people, the one who was enthroned above the cherubim on the ark of the convent which was enshrined in the temple at Shiloh.

I feel increasingly kin to Eli, because Scripture describes him as being "old, and heavy." And, like Eli, I know what it means to cherish strong convictions about who God is, and who we are in relation to God, and what on earth God is up to, and what God wants from us, and what we may expect from God.

For old Eli, all those years of devotion, and all those cherished notions about God were now at risk, as never before in his lifetime. Imagine the shock Eli must have felt when the soldiers of Israel and their chaplains burst into the holy place, take upthe ark of the covenant on their shoulders, and charge off to do battle with the Philistines. Thinking to use their God as a weapon of mass destruction. After all, the ark of the covenant means that God is with us . . . Immanuel . . . Gott Mit Uns. Surely God will protect us against the evil doers, against the enemies of God . . . that is to say, against those who threaten our politics, our security, our way of life.

Perhaps those who carried the ark into battle also thought of themselves as "One nation, under God." Just how far "under God" they were was made painfully clear on the day of battle. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia, "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." If we are to retain"under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance, I suggest that it be followed by an obligatory Jeffersonian tremble, as we reflect that God is just. Thank God, the God we worship is not captive to our nationalistic pieties.

Eli's heart trembled as he awaited news from the field of battle. He trembled for the fate of Israel's armies. He trembled for the fate of his two warrior sons, Hophni and Phineas. But Scripture notes only that he trembled for the ark of the covenant. If the ark fell to the Philistines, then all was lost, including his lifetime of devotion and his deepest convictions about God. If the ark is captured, then God is dead. And so is Eli, as soon as he hears the news.

Despair of this magnitude is not reserved for disillusioned old men. A young woman, in the very act of giving birth, receives word that her husband has been killed in action. She sees her whole future stripped away in an instant, and she experiences the same unbearable emptiness as the old priest.

"Don't be afraid," say the midwives. "You have given birth to a son." As if bearing a male child should make a woman feel that her highest destiny has been fulfilled. She knows better. With the last of her strength she names the child "Ichabod" and cries out, "The glory has departed from Israel."

All her young life she may have heard old Eli expounding the holy mystery of the glory of God . . . Kabod, in Hebrew . . . which was enthroned above the ark of the covenant. The best definition of God's Kabod I have heard was given by old Johann Albrecht Bengel in the early eighteenth century. He called it "Aufgedeckte Heiligkeit" . . . "Holiness Laid Bare." Perhaps the young woman believed it all, who knows. But the sheer cruelty of this unspeakable moment forces her to cry out, like a keening wolf, "Eeeeee . . . where? Eeeee Kabod . . . where is the famous "holiness of God Laid Bare" in this hellish time?

It occurs to me that this might have been a convenient place to conclude the Bible. With apologies to Andre Gide, we might have renamed it The God that Failed. When the crunch comes, God simply fails to measure up to anyone's expectations. To the expectations of the armies of Israel. To the expectations of Eli, or his sons, or his young daughter in law. The word for that is "Ichabod."

A convenient place to end the biblical story, except . . . except for a strange stirring abroad, a strange stirring that challenges us to think the story between God and the world may not be over yet. I find it fascinating that this strange stirring doesnot begin among the survivors in Israel . . . not among the pious . . . not among the true believers. It begins in the camp of the enemy, the Philistines, of all people.

Apparently, there were two major mistakes you could make about the ark of the covenant: Mistake number one was that God was somehow contained in, or held captive by that strange piece of ecclesiastical furniture. This was Israel's mistake. Mistake number two was that God had nothing to do with the ark of the covenant or with God's ancient promise to Israel to be radically present with them in their story.

The Philistines appear to have made mistake number two. Before you go to bed tonight, re-read the hilarious story of how the ark makes its was back to the people of God...not on the Philistines' terms . . . not on Israel's terms . . . but on God's terms, as a kind of deceleration of God's independence from all preconceptions about God, including the preconceptions of God's own people. The Philistines and Israel alike are confronted with "The Holiness of God Laid Bare," in absolute freedom from all human efforts to make God conform to our own self serving interests. God is God, and we're not.

I take this to be the first principle of Reformed theology 101. The God we worship is not captive to any religious ideology, including our own. This is bad news for every form of religious fundamentalism . . . by which I mean the smug certainty that our thoughts are God's thoughts, and our ways are God's ways . . . that those who oppose us are the enemies of God.

It often goes unnoticed that there is not only a Right Wing fundamentalism . . . there is also a fundamentalism of the Left. Anti-Fundamentalism is fundamentalism still. With it comes the cock-sure confidence, not only that right-wing fundamentalists are wrong about God, but that our own terribly sensitive and intelligent and open minded and politically correct notions about God are correspondingly right. In short, left is right, and right is wrong. God is on our side, not on theirs. God has no choice but to place the stamp of divine approval on our peculiar version of political and social and economic and theology correctness. God simply must conform to our own best image of . . . well, us.

I shall not pause to describe the fundamentalism of what our outrageous colleague Walter Johnson loved to call the Far-Middle, the mindless fundamentalism of "The man upstairs." The old Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, once described this group to perfection. Speaking of his own religious community, Carson said, "For us, God is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

And that brings us to Ebenezer. The ark has returned to the people of God . . . on God's terms, not ours. Israel is still locked in a struggle for survival with the Philistines. Against all odds, under the leadership of Samuel, Israel wins a skirmish with the Philistines. The future of God's people remains as precarious as a fiddler on the roof.

But Samuel looks at all this in a different perspective. His strategy of battle did not include aiming the ark at the enemy asa secret weapon. Instead, his sole preparation for battle is to assemble the community for a time of repentance and prayer and fasting . . . a frank recognition that God is God, and we're not. Our thoughts are not God's thoughts. Our ways are not God's ways. If there is to be a future for us at all, it will not be because we are right about anything, but because God freely chooses to be with us and for us anyway, in spite of our failure to be the people God has called us to be.

For Samuel, then, the fact that God's people have survived the day is nothing less than an act of God's amazing grace. As Samuel sees it, a victory of this magnitude must be commemorated, not only in his own time, but in all future generations, including ours. To that end, he sets up a stone monument, and names it "Ebenezer". . . Eben Etzer . . . stone of help. "Thus far . . . up until now, that is . . . God has come to our aid"

How unmonumental this monumental statement sounds to contemporary ears. Not a word about our bravery in battle. Not a word about the sincerity of our repentance and prayer and fasting. And not a hint that this victory guarantees us a future of peace, and security, and prosperity. Such a future as we may have, wherever it may lead, will rest in God's free hands, not in ours. We have no claim whatever on God's future with us, but we do have this dazzling memory . . .one among so many others in the biblical story . . . that, when we had reached the rock bottom of our human resources . . . when we could only cry out "Eeeee Kabod" . . . God was there with us and for us, in ways that pass all human understanding.

To my ears, as a Christian, the desolate cry "Ichabod" resonates with Jesus' cry of dereliction from Good Friday's cross: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Does God love this heartbreaking and heartbroken world so much, that even the most profound human despair is taken up, and embraced, and experienced to the death, in the very heart of God, so that it cannot separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord? Is that what prompted the Apostle Paul to speak of "The glory of God . . . God's Kabod . . . the "Holiness of God Laid Bare". . . in the face of Jesus Christ?"(II Cor. 4:6)

It has always been a dicey business to step into an unknown and often terrifying future supported by nothing more than memories of God's free and always amazing grace . . . so far . . . up until now. Yet, in every generation, Christians have continued to see what we take to be sign after sign that God's grace in Jesus Christ has been with us. We have seen it most clearly, I think, in the lives of highly problematical people such as we are, who . . . nevertheless . . . have been empowered to live in faith, and in hope, and in love, in something reminiscent of the way of Christ.

In microcosm, perhaps that is the story of Austin Seminary over the past century. Especially on this day, we are challenged to remember the signs of God's irresistible grace that have emerged among us . . . here and there, now and then . . .throughout our history. I think now about kitchen workers and dietitians, maintenance engineers and janitors, secretaries and administrators, students and graduates, many of whom won no great public acclaim, but of whom the world was not worthy, dedicated professors and deans and presidents, board members and benefactors who refused to give up on us even in tough times, thousands of Presbyterians who suffered the ministrations of our graduates gladly,and prayed for us anyway, and confounded us with their generosity. I also recall a distinctly non-apostolic succession of odd-ball characters among us, who would not let us take ourselves too seriously.

Ebenezer . . . Eben Etzer . . . "Stone of Help". . . that is not a word that describes our religious ideology, or our wisdom, or our virtue, or any other attribute we may think to posses. The word for all that is Ichabod. Ebenezer is a word in praise of the free grace of God, who has worked among us in such unlikely ways to keep our story going, in spite of us on many occasions.

As Austin Seminary moves into its second century, our future is not at all clear. Past history warns us that Ichabod moments may yet lie ahead of us, times when it may seem to us that "The Holiness of God Laid Bare" has departed from us. But, insofar as we remain faithful to the God who has been so surprisingly faithful to us, our watchword for the future can only be Ebenezer . . . so far, up until now, God has come to our aid. Into God's free and gracious hands we can commit our future of God's so beloved world.

And now, in the unreconstructibly Presbyterian and Reformed words of Psalms 115 . . . Non Nobis, Domine, Non Nobis, Sed Nomine Tuo Da Gloriam. "Not to us. O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory." Amen.

As I said, I feel so blessed and so favored to have been allowed to share his sermon with you. I came very close to crying when I spoke with both Dr. Wharton and his wife on the phone earlier today. I felt such joy!

I pray, most fervently, that our dear Lord will hold each of you in His loving arms and watch over you as you go forth in your daily endeavors.

'Our club'

With less than 40 games to go in the regular season - barring some sort of major collapse by either team, I hereby pronounce the Yankees and Cardinals divisional champions in the American League East and National League Central, respectively. Tammy's greatgrandfather can begin churning in his grave right now. Which team will Tammy root for? (Of course, both teams have to get through the divisional and league playoffs first in order to meet in the World Series, but still!)

Since August 3rd, both the Yankees and Cards have been on a torrid winning pace. The Cardinals have won very close to 80% (!) of their games, with the Yanks not far behind at 75% - both records making it next to impossible for other teams in their division to try and play catchup.

At the other end of the scale, both Chuck's Cubbies and Steven's Blue Jays have tried to see who could 'undo' each other in the race to lose the most games. The Jays won this race, but just barely, losing 68% of their games. Chuck's team came in a very close second - 65% - both absolutely disgraceful numbers!

Not that I'm proud of what my Astros have done, you understand. (They're not alone in their just below .500 winning percentage in the last month. My son-in-law's Red Sox have 'distinguished' themselves similarly.) However, I did it to them (the Astros)! It's all my fault, you know. I jinxed them. Ever since I posted "If this is a dream, please ... ...", they have been slowly but surely removing themselves from any thoughts of a divisional championship and now are completely out of the playoff picture, including any possible Wild Card hope.

I don't want to ignore Patrick's Braves, who have been winning over half of their games since the beginning of August, but they're in the same division (National League East) as the Phillies, who are continuing their winning ways. The best that Patrick can hope for, I think, is a Wild Card berth.

It's unlikely, but possible. Currently, they are 5.5 games out. Ahead of his team in that race for the Wild Card in the National League are the Rockies (#1) and the Giants (three games back of the Rockies), both of whom are in the National League West, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.

There was a time when I thought the Dodgers might be uncatchable. While they're still leading their division, and ranked #5 for power by Aram, the Rockies have been slowing creeping up - little by little. Yesterday they were only two games back of the Dodgers. Today the figure is three. Very close, indeed!

My son-in-law's Red Sox are currently leading the American League pack in the Wild Card race, with the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays not far back, so that will give us something interesting to watch in the coming few weeks.

I told Tammy that I would post something about the Wild Card. Well, Tammy, the 'wild card' is a designated spot (in baseball) where a team (not the divisional champion) in each league (both American and National) with the best winning percentage* advances to the playoffs. As there are three divisions within each league, the 'wild card' would make a fourth team.

*I can just hear you asking the question now and so, in anticipation of your question, here's the answer ... ... In the case of a statistical tie, a one-game playoff between the two teams would determine who the 'wild card' would be.

[In further anticipation of another question of yours, Tammy, which might be, "Has there ever been a 'Wild Card' World Series champion?" Well, yes there has ... four of them, actually, the most recent of which (2004) was the Red Sox. Go here for more detailed info.]

Now, for the divisional playoffs. The 'wild card' team will always play, in the first round, against the team in their league with the best record - unLESS that team happens to be in their same division, in which case they would play against the team with the second best record.

Once that first round of playoffs has been concluded, then the two winners will meet in opposition to see who will represent their league (American or National) in the World Series.

It's impossible for me to conclude this post w/o mentioning the Phillies, whose road record (as of this writing) is an unbelievable 41-22!! What the devil is that percentage, anyway? 65%? Something like that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Just thinking out loud

Why do we blog? To share our innermost thoughts? To try and find others of like mind with whom to share that in which we have found joy? To try and rid ourselves of demons and potential nightmares by purging ourselves of ugliness or bad moments - to 'get it out in the open', as it were? To 'dump' on someone else? To commiserate with each other? To wallow in or chuckle over another's misfortune? To be discovered as the next best-selling author? To achieve fame and fortune? To simply while away the time?

Why do YOU blog?

I began blogging in January of 2008. I was 70 years old and newly retired. I was having a whole lot of fun with a 'new toy' - my computer - and knew I had a lot to say, but didn't quite know how to go about it. My daughter and son-in-law helped me out a whole bunch.

Initially, I'm pretty sure I was under the terribly-mistaken illusion that the world would soon beat a path to my heretofore unpublished writer's door, pay me a gazillion million $$$$$ to publish ----- and then I would while away the rest of my days in (wherever I pleased) doing (whatever I pleased) to my heart's content.

Ha! Double ha!!

Since then, of course, reality has set in, and I have found myself in the midst of just a fantastic group of bloggers from around the world, some of whom I value as true friends. Among those most dear are Tammy, Steven, Craig, Chuck, Polimom and Michael.

One of the things I've discovered that I delight in the most about reading other bloggers' posts is leaving a comment. Taking the time to leave a comment means that you have thought enough about your friend's post to add a statement or two - perhaps even to ask a question. Even more fun, however, is the wonderful surprise of receiving a thoughtful response - perhaps a question provoking even more dialogue between the two of you - back!

How uplifting and heartwarming it is to have someone be so thoughtful as to regard your comment as being worthy of a response ... it's a really good feeling!

In these days of extraordinarily large and sometimes unimaginable numbers, where the great majority of us are almost totally lost in ambiguous anonymity, I find great solace in the (perhaps) somewhat smaller - but certainly more closely-knit - world of blogging.

Thank you all for following my posts these past many months. I hope that you will continue to do so. Even though you are not here where I can see you right this very second, please know that you are in my thoughts, in my heart and in my prayers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lady Astor

Was there ever such a person as 'Lady Astor'? I'm sure there probably was. I promised you a joke in my next post and this will be it.

Btw, I was reminded of this joke while writing about Julia Child's somewhat odd (I thought!) accent (in my last post, I think I referred to her accent as 'British', but of course she wasn't British, she was American-born), wherein she seemed to be speaking through her nose in just a touch higher than what one might consider a 'normal' speaking voice.

Many years ago - this is not part of the joke, this is just a preface to the joke - I was at an Astros game with one of my dearest bridge friends at the time (Dave Landers, who has since passed away).

It was while we were sitting there, on the first base line and I was busily munching away on my hot dog with everything on it but chili, that he asked me, "Have you ever heard of Lady Astor's visit to the United States and the first time she ever saw a baseball game?"

"No," I responded, and herein begins the joke. Ready? Make sure your mouth is not full of hot dog or accompanying condiment bits when you read the punch line, OK? Fair warning!

It seems that Lady Astor was on an historic visit to the United States, and one of the American consulate's entourage (who had been specifically hired to show her around and be her companion) took her to a baseball game.

She was entranced and had a lot of questions.

Later, she was reported to have said, "It was so exciting! There was this very large field with three pillows on it and men in uniforms of two different colors. I didn't really understand at all what was happening.

But then, one of the men - holding a very large wicket - stepped forward. The man on a high hill threw a ball at him - at him! He (the man holding the very large wicket) swung his wicket at the ball and hit it. Oh, my, but that was exciting! And then, as soon as he had struck the ball, he ran as fast as he could run to the first pillow.

The crowd yelled. I didn't understand quite why they were shouting, but felt their joy.

This happened again and again throughout the game. A man would come up and swing his wicket mightily at the ball thrown at him and then run like the very dickens to the first pillow if he hit the ball. If there were already men at any of the pillows, they would run as fast as they could, as well, to try and get to the next pillow! At times, it almost seemed like they were in a race.

But then the strangest thing happened, and I didn't understand it at all! A fellow came up with his wicket, but never did swing it to try and strike the ball being thrown at him. His wicket was sitting on his shoulder the whole time. He finally just placed his wicket down on the ground and walked to the first pillow. (?!?!?!)

'Why,' I asked my companion, 'did he walk instead of run?' 'Oh,' he responded, 'it was because he had four balls.'

Well, that made perfect sense to me! Having four balls would tend to impede one's progress."

As I said, I was chewing on a hot dog with a bunch of stuff on it at the time, and when Dave hit me with that punch line pieces of hot dog and condiments went all over those seated in front of us.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A date with my daughter

We met this morning before 11:30 (It was my granddaughter's first day back at school for this coming year, so my daughter thought she had some 'free time'.) - way out there on the west side of Katy - to see "Julie & Julia". Have you seen it? My daughter said she'd be there by 11:15. (According to her research on the web, the movie was due to begin at 11:35.) I said I'd try and be there a little earlier than that, but I wasn't for sure. Well, as it turned out, I was there before 11:15 (she wasn't there yet) and I thought, "I'll buy the tickets for us. It's so seldom I get to see her or treat her these days, it seems." And so, I did. Feeling pretty darned good about myself and with tickets in hand, I waited.

Well, the time went by and I nervously paced back and forth just inside the air-conditioned theater and then outside in the sweltering heat. No daughter. (And, of course, I'd left my cell phone in the car, so I couldn't call her.) Meanwhile, during my minutes of waiting, I perused the everyoneknowsthey'reover-pricedbutbuysthestuffanywaycuztheyknowyou'reacaptiveaudience food counter next to where I had purchased our tickets.

Then, just before 11:30, she hurries in, saying, "Mom, I had to stop for gas. Sorry!" "No problem," I respond, handing her her ticket. Then she says, "Let's get something to eat!" And so we move on over to the main food counter, where the menu is nowhere NEAR the same as the one I had been perusing! Go figure, right?

She wanted popcorn and lots of it! Normally, I might as well, but a fellow who had been standing in the "earlybird" line just before me had ordered a cheeseburger. (?) When I asked him why he was ordering a cheeseburger in a movie theater, he responded, "It tastes pretty good, actually!"

Long story short, I went back and ordered a cheeseburger (w/o tomatoes, but with everything else), fries (which came with the order, and were pretty heavily spiced) and a hot chocolate with just a dab of whipped cream on top. Have you ever ordered such a thing at your movie theater? I never had!

ANYhoo, both of us - armed with enough calories to do us for the next couple of hours or so - entered theater #8.

Now, Meryl Streep is (imo) one of the more talented actresses of our day, but I haven't even beGUN to see all of her movies. (Nor do I intend to! Many of them are subjects which I have not even the vaguest interest in!! All that aside, however, I must say that "Out of Africa" is one of my favorites. Didn't that co-star Robert Redford? ... Give me a sec here, while I look it up. ... Yep, here it is!

This is a film that came out in 1985 ... 24 years ago. Even I am having a problem believing that figure!

My goodness, my goodness! This was before Robert Redford began to lose his extraordinary good looks, wasn't it? It's hard to believe, really and truly, that it was that long ago.

My daughter tells me that she has heard of the film, but has never seen it. Well, she has something to look forward to, doesn't she? The film received 28 awards, including seven Academy Awards, one of which HAS to have been for 'cinematography'. You'll have to give me another sec here, while I look it up. ... ... Yes, I was correct!)

But let's move on to today's film. I heartily recommend it, but perhaps more for those of you who are old enough to remember Julia Child.

I didn't watch her television show much, actually, - primarily becuz I was kind of 'put off' by her somewhat nasal and high-pitched British accent - but mostly, I think, because I wasn't that interested in cooking. However, I distinctly remember one episode on her cooking show where she was trying to flip an omelette - at least, I think it was an omelette! - and it landed on the floor. Then, in her delightfully-comedic way, she said, "Well, that one won't make it to the dinner table!"

In my memory of her show, she relegated 'it' - whatever it was she had tried to flip - to a trash can. However, in the movie we saw today - at least twice - people ("cooks") picked stuff up off of the floor and proceeded on with stuffing whatever it was into whatever it was that they were cooking at the time. Kind of makes you wonder, eh what, what you're eating and where it's been???

There was a delightful scene in the film that I wouldn't mind seeing again and again and again. It's the scene where Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and her husband are hosting a party for Julia's sister, Dorothy, who is herself another taller-than-average female. (Julia, herself, was purportedly 6'2".) They think they might have found a 'perfect match' for Dorothy, and invited another over-sized male friend of theirs to the party.

Their male friend arrived a touch late, unfortunately. Dorothy had already been introduced to another guest (male) at the party, and the expressions on both Julia's (Meryl's) and her husband's faces when they realized that a mutual attraction had already been formed are absolutely priceless. Priceless!

I was going to conclude this post with a joke, but I'll save it for my next one! How's that for enticing? :)

A couple of groaners ...

... funny, but groaners nonetheless.

This first one is about a very famous heart surgeon, who is standing off to the side watching a mechanic remove some engine valves from his car.

Morris, the mechanic - somewhat of a loud mouth - shouts, "Hey, doc? Come on over here a minute. Let me show you something!"

The famous doctor, a bit surprised, walks over to where Morris is working on his car.

Morris, in a very loud voice that all could hear, said, "So tell me, Mr. Famous Doctor ... ... I take valves out, grind 'em, put in new parts, and when I finish this baby will purr like a kitten. So how come you get paid the big bucks, while you and me are basically doing the same work?"

The surgeon was highly embarrassed, but replied softly to Morris, "Try doing it while the engine is running and a life is at stake."

This second one is titled "IRS Auditor" ... ...

At the end of each year, the IRS sent an auditor to examine the books of a local hospital. Always, it seemed, the same questions were asked. Among these were ...

"I notice you buy a lot of bandages. What do you do at the end of the roll when there's too little left to be of any use?" (Answer: We save them up and send them back to the bandage company, and every now and then they send us a free box of bandages.)

"Oh," said the somewhat frustrated auditor at this practical answer, but then continued, "What about all these plaster purchases? What do you do with what's left over after setting a cast on a patient?" (Answer: We save it and send it back to the manufacturer, and every now and then they send us a free package of plaster.)

"I see," replied the auditor, and then his scowl turned into a simpering grin when he noticed an item on the books that - upon further questioning, he thought - could not possibly be explained in a logical or rational manner.

"Well," he then asked, smirking the whole while, "What do you do with all these leftover foreskins from the circumcisions you perform on babies?"

"Here, too, we do not waste," replied the hospital administrator. "What we do is save all the little foreskins and send them to the IRS office, and about once a year they send us a complete dick."

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Well, I got my weedeater fixed, and I didn't have to drive out to Katy to do it. My neighbor came home from work and I got dressed - I like to sit around the house stark staring naked (except in winter) - and went next door with the thing in hand. It took him all of about half a second to do it. He showed me exactly what he did, so I could do it myself next time. (Hopefully!)

While there, I listened patiently to all of his rants and raves about how much he hates Houston, hates Texas, hates his 'condominium' (he has a townhouse, just like I do!), hates Glencluster (the name of our Homeowner's Association, and he's not alone in that one!), hates ... ... well, his hate list just went on and on and on.

It included the police department, who has stopped responding to his repeated calls about loud music in the neighborhood and drag racing up and down our street. Well, folks, drag racing up and down our street is simply not possible! I hear loud music from time to time, but it's not a bother for me. There is a vehicle belonging to one of our neighbors, who likes to play his stereo loudly while driving, but - as soon as he's in his garage, the loud music disappears completely. I mentioned this to my neighbor and he said, "Yeah, it's that little red car, license plate #-------."

He's right on top of everything and sensitive as all get out! The last time he saw the police was at 11pm one night, when they came pounding on his front door. He had been sound asleep - he gets up before 4:30 each morning - and staggered to the door, trying to focus his eyeballs. The police were there and ready with pad and pencil in hand to take down every piece of info he had to offer in re noisemakers, people's names, house and license plate numbers, younameits. That visit went over not at all well, as you might imagine!

He seems to think that the police should park a cruiser on our street every night 'just in case' something might arise that would disturb everyday law-abiding citizens. Actually, they did do that once, for a 24-hour period (he told me), at his request. Nothing happened.

Now, historically we've had our share of crime in this neighborhood, but I'm not talking about loud music ... ... I'm talking about stolen cars, thefts and break-ins. One night, a few years back, I had occasion to call the police. It was 12:30 or so, and I was sitting at the kitchen table watching some program or another on television when there came a loud knocking at my front door. It startled me!

I wasn't about to open my front door in the middle of the night. I wasn't expecting anyone. I didn't acknowledge the fact that I was home, either, by calling out, "Who is it?" Instead, I turned out the light in the kitchen (I had already turned off the TV), went into each of the other two rooms (Not the living room! That room led to the front door.) that faced the street (groping my way in the dark the whole time) and surreptitiously parted the blinds to try and see who was out there. I could see a small white car parked at an angle in front of my house, its engine running. The pounding on my front door continued.

I grabbed my cell phone - thank goodness for cell phones! - and called 911. I gave the operator my address, told her what had been going on and advised her that I was not staying in the house, that I lived alone and had no weapon with which to defend myself. I told her that I was going to try and make it out back to the garage, get in and start my car, open the garage door and hightail it on out of there (if I could get away with it) to a Stop and Go just up the street.

I told her the route I was going to take (down the back alley to Wilcrest, then up Wilcrest to the Stop and Go) ... ... at that time, the Glencluster 'powers that be' had not yet decided to block that back alleyway, and so I did not have to exit my neighborhood by driving past what I now suspected were potential intruders and most certainly uptonogooders.

I asked if she wouldn't mind staying on the line with me while I did so. I was so scared! She did stay on the line with me. When I was 'safely' at the Stop and Go, she disconnected, but called me back just a couple of minutes later to tell me that a cruiser was in front of my house and how soon could I get back there?

You want to talk about 'shocked'!?! WHY was the cruiser in front of my house? Why wasn't the cruiser at the Stop and Go, its officer ready to comfort and assist me? (In retrospect, of course, it makes perfect sense that the cruiser had gone directly to the front of my house. It's just that, in my state of mind, I think I was just wanting the whole thing to disappear ... relegate it to neverhappenedland, and retreat back into watching whatever I was watching on television in the 'relative safety' of my own home before I was so rudely interrupted.)

I asked her to have the dispatched officer call me. She did. Two 'she's' - both the emergency operator and the dispatched officer, both competent as all get out and exactly what I needed in my frantic state of mind.

The dispatched officer told me that there was no small white vehicle parked in the front of my house with its engine idling. She could see no activity inside my house, either. All was dark, she said. She really needed to have me come back home and meet with her.

Oh, boy! I told her what route I was going to take (same route, only the opposite, ending up in the back alley leading towards my garage) and asked if she would stay on the line with me. She did.

That was one weird experience! She and I were on the phone the whole time. I told her when I was pulling the car into the garage. I told her when I was closing the door to my garage. I told her when I turned on the back yard lights. I told her when I entered the house. I told her when I began turning on lights. I told her which lights! (I told her everything I heard and saw, which was nothing out of the ordinary, as I entered each new room.) I turned on the lights in every room in the house before I finally opened the front door to this blinding police light, which had been focused on my front door from the very beginning.

I NEVER have felt so safe, before or since! She gave me her private cell phone number and stayed with me until I stopped shaking.

I'm usually pretty good at writing letters of commendation and kept both her name and the emergency operator's name for some time, intending to write such a letter for both but never did. Why? I don't know. Time passed, I guess, but that's not an acceptable excuse for not doing so.

But, let's get back to my neighbor. I could have 'white-gloved' his place. I kid you not here! All the while I was there, he was complaining about this and that, this and that, and I kept thinking, "Whaat?!?"

He has a NASCAR collection in two 'white-glovable' glass cabinets. (He has many more in his collection, he says, but he doesn't have 'room' to put them. You have to be ******* me! All he has there is room! No personal memorabilia, no photographs, no magazines or books scattered hither or thither ... ... just a gigantic - maybe 50" or so - digital widescreen TV that was showing a M*A*S*H episode.

I asked, "Channel 33?" "No," he answered, "24." "Oh," I said. "You have cable." "Yes," he said.

I asked, "Did you get my e-mail yesterday?" "No," he answered. "I've disconnected everything from the Internet. Their service is lousy." (Another of the things on his 'hate' list.)

Oh, my! But he did fix my weedeater!!

Friday, August 21, 2009


This has been a strange week, what with my 'falling off the pottie' episode and whatnot all else.

I just got off the phone with my son-in-law, asking him what his schedule looked like for today. I told him I needed to bring something out there for him to look at. He asked, "It wouldn't be a toilet, would it?" (I could hear a barely muffled 'Hee hee' in the background.) What does he think I am, anyway - some kind of Amazon, that I could pick up and carry a toilet all the way out there to Katy? Give me a break here, would you please?!?

No, the 'problem' I want him to look at and resolve is my weedeater (inherited from my daughter). I can't seem to get it apart to see if the weedeating thingamabop is out of plastic, or if it's just entangled. I did this myself a few years back, but am unable to do it now for some reason. (I tried to reach my neighbor last night to see if he could help me, but was unsuccessful.)

He's going to call me when he gets back from lunch. Meanwhile, my front entry is threatening to become overgrown with grass and weeds and absolutely MUST be trimmed! Elsewise, the homeowner's association will charge me $$ to do it. (I've gone back and forth with the association many times before and would like to avoid this scenario, if possible.)

Meanwhile, I've been called for jury duty again, can you believe it? This one's for traffic court. September 8th. I wrote an extensive post in June of last year "On discharging one's civic responsibilities", which you can read at your leisure if you wish.

I'm tempted to go and 'serve'. I think the likelihood is GREAT that I'll be 'kicked off' of any actual juror's list simply due to my many years of professional driving ... ... still and all, tho, I'm tempted to go. What do you think? Should I?

As a slight follow-up to my 'falling off the toilet' episode, I'll tell you that a very large and colorful bruise on my upper left arm is - as of this writing - disappearing. I'm pretty sure that I was lucky.

Has any of you read any of others' "Transformative moments"? My goodness! Some of them are really difficult to read, while others are downright amusing. It was a glorious idea that you had, Steven, and I'm not the least bit surprised that you had such a wide variety of participants.

All for now, guys. More later, including - as I promised you, Tammy, a wild card post.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Transformative Moment

I've written so much about myself - blabbed, actually - that I thought I'd have this transformative moment be someone else's!

In 1977, I was a new 'single' and looking for a church home, preferably one that had an active singles group. I found one, at the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. This group, called TGIS (Thank God I'm Single, as they somewhat irreverently nicknamed it, instead of Thank God It's Sunday), met at 11 am each Sunday morning in a very large fellowship hall.

The vast majority of its members came only for TGIS, altho several arrived an hour early to attend the "folk" services. I asked about these. What were they like? I was told that these services were more 'relaxed', that the songs were often composed by the choir director and accompanied - not by the majestic organ, but by jazz combo-type performers and that parishioners often laughed, clapped and sometimes even shouted during the service.

That sounded very strange to me - yet, at the same time intriguing, and so I went to one. Then I went to another. And another. It was while I was attending one of those folk services that I first heard Dr. Wharton speak.

I was so impressed! His central message always seemed to be "God's love", "God's grace", "God's forgiveness". I couldn't get enough of listening to this man! He filled my heart with such joy. I attended every class he taught and dragged every one of my friends who would allow themselves to be 'dragged' to church with me, hoping they might feel just a wee bit for themselves some of the happiness that welled up inside me every time I heard such good news.

One of these was Ruth, one of my best friends, who was a Unitarian church member. I asked her after the service what her impression was and she said, "If I had to try and describe him in one word, that word would be 'nonjudgmental'."

As a Christian born in the late 1930's, I was taught early on that only those who believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour will go to Heaven. However, I often heard Dr. Wharton say he had trouble believing that the God he loved so much could be so narrow-minded (his exact words).

He had many friends - close friends - outside of the Christian faith, but there were those within the church who felt threatened by his publicly-stated views. He had a profound influence on me, and to this day - 30-some years later - I am often reminded of his stance on judging others when I find myself being critical.

It is Dr. James A. Wharton's "transformative moment" that I would like to share with you ... ... the definitive moment in his life that forever changed him from a smug, anti-social and rebellious teenager into a lifelong and nonjudgmental servant of God.

He and his group were walking along down the sidewalk, seeing what kind of trouble they could get into, picking on whomever and rudely laughing at others' misfortunes when - all of a sudden - they heard the screeching of brakes and the unmistakable sound of 'something' being struck.

Quickly, they all looked around. There, lying almost in the gutter, was a woman. It was she who had been hit by the car. She was bleeding. Badly-injured, it appeared. She was unkempt and filthy and reeked of liquor. The group began to laugh and point.

Young James, however, went towards her to get a closer look. He felt compelled to take the dying woman in his arms, and as he did so he felt the love, grace, forgiveness and power of Jesus Christ go through his arms and enfold the woman.

"Even to the least of these," he thought, and was overwhelmed with God's love and mercy.

I'm sure I haven't told his story very well, but that's the truth as I remember him telling it many times over. In preparation for this post, I tried to look up James A. Wharton, to see if he's still with us here on earth.

He spoke on "Ichabod or Ebenezer?" at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary's centennial celebration in 2003, the text of which can (supposedly) be read on-line. However, when I went to the site, it's not there. But, this would have been six years ago. Tomorrow*, if I get a chance, I'll call their library to see if the text of his sermon can still be read.

*This is being written on Tuesday evening, the 18th.

I hope that you and your readers will forgive me, Steven, for not writing about myself here. You had such a splendiferous idea and I can't wait to read all of the linked entries!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I don't mind telling you ... ...

Well, I DO 'mind' telling you, but I don't know how I can avoid it, OK? There are a few potentially awful things going on in my life right now and I'm a little scared, to tell you the truth.

First off, I fear that my short term memory might be going. While my partner (s) and I have done well, generally ... ... within the last week or two, in particular, I have begun to notice slights in almost every aspect of my bridge game. I find that scary. Very scary!

(My father's bridge game deteriorated during the last few years of his life to the point where he no longer enjoyed the game as he once had. He couldn't always remember which cards had been played, and that's a deathknell for both declarer and defender. The worst thing of all was that he knew it! Kind of reminds me of Charlton Heston and Ronald Reagan, who knew early on the devastating effects Alzheimer's would have on their lives and those close to them and who both chose to bravely go public with their goodbyes while they were still lucid.)

Now, Julian and I are scheduled to play in a Swiss team game tonite at the studio. I'm going to share my fears with him after our game. I don't want to alarm him unnecessarily beforehand. I'm pretty sure he will give me an honest response. We go WAY back and I consider him a good friend.

I'm scheduled to play bridge again Tuesday evening, will be teaching a class Wednesday evening, plus Rick and I will be playing 'speedball' on BridgeBase Thursday for an hour in final preparation for our being one half of a two-session Swiss team event at a Houston sectional tournament coming up a week from today.

[This post was started Sunday afternoon. It's now Tuesday. Any bracket notations you see have just been added. In regard to my short term memory loss fears, I think they might have been imaginary. I played very well Sunday night in spite of having had very little sleep. See next section.]

Has any of you ever missed the pottie? I've heard about this, but never had experienced it until last night. I woke up in the middle of the night, having to tinkle. I stumbled around in the dark, feeling my way as per usual - I'd only done this a few thousand times before - and sat down heavily on the left side of the toilet, landing somewhere between its seat and the tub rail. I knocked the toilet off its hinges and found myself trapped in the shower curtains while water was cascading from the commode.

Some many seconds later - I was still trying to ascertain whether or not any bones had been broken in my fall and why the devil wasn't I able to get up while water was still pouring forth and drenching my feet - I managed to extricate myself from the shower curtains, upright the toilet and stop the cascade.

My first thought was, "How much is THIS latest gaffe going to co$t me?" (It seems I'm always doing something to screw up the works!) I got very little sleep and my dreams were all over the place, as you might imagine!

[I thought, when I first uprighted the toilet, that I was successful - somehow, by some miracle - in reattaching it. The first time I flushed it was 'as written'. The second time I tried was not. And so, as I write this, I am not using that bathroom. I am a little hopeful that - when I DO call ARS (plumbing/AC/heating) - they will reassure me that all that will be needed is to reattach the thing properly to the floor and I will not have to purchase a whole new commode. Meanwhile, of course, I have made 'other arrangements'.]

All is not always "golden" in my world. In fact, often it is not! I have hesitated publishing this post, but then I decided, "Why not? This is life. This is reality. This is truth." (Btw, this latest incident will not be included among my 'transformative' moments!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Before I forget ...

... I'd like to remind any of you who might be interested that this coming Wednesday, August 19th, is the date that Steven has set for hosting his brand-new proposed meme, "A Transformative Moment".

If you would like to participate in his 'first ever', he invites you to leave a comment on any of his posts and he will be happy to add your name and link to those who have already signed up.

What is a 'transformative' moment? Well, on his current sidebar, Steven writes ... ... an experience that you knew in that moment - or on reflection - changed you.

He introduced his idea here and then - just a couple or so days ago - posted a list of those who had already expressed an interest in being a part of this historic event here.

Steven is one of those treasures that I discovered about a year and a half ago while surfing the net, and you've no doubt noticed that he has been on my "I recommend" list before. He's 'off' for the summer - he's a schoolteacher - and has been having a whole lot of fun acquiring new fans and posting like crazy.

There's an expression in CB radideoland that goes, "I'm 10-10 and listenin' in." What that means is ... while you'll still have your radio on, you won't be doing any talking or participating in the conversation. I'm sure Steven wouldn't mind a bit if you just decide to '10-10 and listen in' on others' "transformative moments".

Virus alert

I received an e-mail yesterday which warned of a new virus, cited for verification and advised me to pass the information along to everyone I know and care about immediately.

Well, I have double-checked with for my own personal satisfaction, and snopes does NOT verify it. Read it for yourselves, if you wish.

Have a bit of patience getting to the site ... all sorts of popups want to appear ... but snopes' central message is loud and clear and one we should all keep in mind:

Never open an attachment from someone or a source you do not know and trust.

So simple.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mailing a child

Steve published a short one the other day about a practice that the US Postal Service observed a hundred or so years ago of mailing children. Sounds preposterous, doesn't it?

This was well before my time, but I've been searching my memory banks to see if I had even heard about this. Some very dim memory, perhaps, but nothing concrete enough to relate in any detail.

Reading his post, however, reminded me of a time when I was driving a taxicab and was dispatched to an apartment complex. I was given a woman's name as the passenger.

When I arrived, she was waiting outside carrying a baby - just a few months old. She immediately opened the front passenger door, placed the baby (who was now sitting up) on the front seat and strapped him in. Then she gave me a piece of paper with the destination address. I was to be paid at the other end.

I was in such a state of shock, I think, that I simply drove away. The baby never took his large luminous eyes off of me the whole trip. Didn't cry. Didn't laugh or even gurgle a little. Never uttered a sound. Just watched me.

I remember being so nervous about that trip. What if I had an accident? What if the baby started screaming? What if he had the world's most tremendous bowel movement and it went all over the place? What if no one was there at the other end to receive him? What if I got stopped by the police? What if some irate relative tailed me the whole way, ready to beat me up at the other end for abducting their son, younger brother, nephew, whatever?

Well, I got to the destination safely with none of the above happening, someone was there to take the baby and I got paid. What a relief!

It was the only time in my nearly 18 years of driving a taxicab that something like that happened. That occurred fairly early on in my professional driving career. A few years later, the state laws changed - no child could ride in the front passenger seat, even in a taxicab, unless they were fourteen years old - and she would have had to place him in the back seat, all alone. I wonder how that would have gone over?

Would you have allowed your baby to be picked up by a Yellow Cab driver, a complete stranger, and trusted that your loved one would be safely delivered to another person?

Well, that's exactly what people expected the US Postal Service to do, isn't it? Meanwhile, en route, who fed the baby? Who changed its diapers? Who burped it? Who held it? My goodness, the questions that come to mind!

Go to Stamperdad's post, linked above, for a bit more information on the history of mailing children. As an added bonus, he includes a photograph (from the Smithsonian archives) taken in 1913.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Crock pot taco soup

"The most delicious soup ever" is how Tammy refers to this ... ...

Doesn't that look absolutely scrumptious?

Here's the recipe ...

1 pound ground turkey, browned
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 envelope ranch dressing mix
1 large can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can green chilies, undrained
1 can whole kernel corn, undrained
1 can black beans, undrained
1 can sliced black olives, drained
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced

Place ingredients in a crock pot, stir and add just enough water to cover everything. Cook on low all day or on high for about 4 hours. Top individual bowls of soup with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

Tammy adds, "I would imagine this would be fine simmering in a large pot on the stove all day. Also, it would be delicious without meat, too."

I intend to try this when our weather cools down a bit. I'll be using RO*TEL's cans of diced tomatoes and green chilies, instead. Too bad they don't have the RO*TEL brand up there in Idaho. You might recall that I first wrote about RO*TEL this past January, when I was talking about a really neat recipe for chili. If you missed that post and would like a tried and tested chili recipe, or if you'd just like to go back and refresh your memory banks, here's the link.

I think I will not use turkey. Believe I'll try beef, instead. Also, I like mushrooms. I wonder how those would work? Could they be simmered along with all of the other ingredients in a crock pot?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

She's baaack!

Who's back? Jennie is! Back from the not quite yet frozen tundra of the UP (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for those of you who are from other parts of the world and are unfamiliar with "UP"), where she had to dress in long sleeves and wear warm outerwear in order to keep from shivering.

It's beautiful up there - particularly on the Lake Superior side of the UP - but you know what? I'll take the heat and humidity anytime! (Hurricane-related problems inclusive.)

ANYhoo, she's sending me goodies again, a couple of which I'm going to share with and treat you to. How's that sound?

This first one I'm calling "The Origin of S.H.I.T." Ready? Here we go ... ...

In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship. Commercial fertilizers had not yet been invented, so large shipments of manure were common.

The manure was shipped dry. In dry form, it weighed a lot less than when wet.

However, once the water (at sea) hit it, it not only expanded and became heavier, the process of fermentation began ... ... one byproduct of which is methane gas.

Now, you should keep in mind that all of this stuff was stored below decks in bundles. As you might imagine, the methane gas continued to build up until one time someone came below at night with a lantern and KA BOOM!

Several ships were destroyed in this manner, as a matter of fact, before the cause of the explosions was discovered. After that, the bundles of manure were always stamped with the term "Ship High in Transit" on them.

"And now you know," as Paul Harvey (and boy, do I miss that man!) would have said, "the rest of the story!"

This next one is superdeliciocious, but it's going to take me a while to transcribe it. It's called "A School Answering Machine" ... ...

... (phone ringing) ...

Hello! You have reached the automated answering service of your school. In order to assist you in connecting to the right staff member, please listen to all the options before making a selection ... ...

To lie about why your child is absent, press 1.

To make excuses for why your child did not do his homework, press 2.

To complain about what WE do, press 3.

To swear at staff members, press 4.

To ask why you didn't get information that has already been enclosed in your newsletter and several flyers that have been mailed to you, press 5.

If you want us to rate your child, press 6.

If you want to reach out and touch, slap or hit someone, press 7.

To request another teacher for the third time this year, press 8.

To complain about bus transportation, press 9.

To complain about school lunches, press 0.

If you realize this is the real world and your child must be accountable and responsible for his or her own behavior, classwork and homework and that it's not the teacher's fault for your child's lack of effort, hang up and 'Have a nice day!'

If you want this in another language, move to a country that speaks it. Thank you for your interest in public education.

Is that hysterical, or what?!? I could have taken the time, with Tammy's help, to link you to the player for this. However, there are no visuals. If you'd like me to give you the link (so you can actually hear the person speaking for yourselves), just say so in a comment and I will do so.

All I can add is, "Welcome back, Jennie!"

News from Wendy

I just read her latest newsletter and was almost shocked to learn that she is planning to return to Everest for another summit attempt next year! In fact, her training will begin shortly.

For those of you who do not know or remember who Wendy Booker is, I recommend this post for the best overview of her story.

Here is the main body of what I read today ... ...

Recap of Everest

Everest 2009 was an amazing experience and despite not summitting, I came away from the attempt a whole lot wiser. Climbing Everest is really like a game of chess, one poorly strategized move and your summit attempt is in jeopardy. Our team was plagued with several set backs including the death of our friend and high altitude cook, Kajee. Kajee died from alcohol poisoning. After that our team was left with a huge hole and heavy hearts. Our ability to regroup and focus on the climb ahead was greatly impacted.
The weather was a constant hindrance, this year there were only four days - May 19 through the 22nd to make an attempt. I had hoped to go for an earlier summit but by May 19 found my energy level lagging and my MS symptoms more pronounced from exhaustion. Just below Camp 1, I realized every other climber was blowing past me and that my speed was a holding my team back. Risking the lives of others isn't worth it at any cost, so we opted to turn back. The decision was heart wrenching and I shed many tears before firmly resolving to return next spring. I didn't even need to make the decision from a warm beach with a daiquiri in hand!!
Shortly after my return to the comforts of home I was excited to take this year's fourth grade class from the Donald McKay School in Boston for our annual trek up Mt. Monadnock. Okay maybe excited is the wrong choice of words. After being on Everest for nearly two months, facing another mountain - even a 3000' one - less than two weeks after my return left me feeling anything but excited. But year after year the kids touch my heart and rejuvenate my soul, and this year was no exception.
I had the
honor of accompanying Joseph to the top. For Joseph this was a true "dig in" experience
- blood, sweat and tears
but he made it!!! It took everything he
had and then some, but hey? isn't that
what I always say about the mountains? A poignant lesson was learned by several kids who did not reach the summit. Just like my 'no summit' on Everest, they know the value of the effort, the journey and the lessons learned along the way. The group that didn't summit were quick to surround me with hugs and their own words of inspiration... very philosophically assuring me that a 'no summit' was all part of the experience. Out of the mouths of babes!
But the biggest excitement of all was the coin drive that took place while I was in Nepal. The class set about their very own fundraiser to earn money for our little Sherpa girl, Phura Yangjee Sherpa, and her mom, Bandi.
They launched a school wide campaign with posters, collection boxes, daily announcements over the PA system and key rings and compasses stamped with "The Wendy Booker Project" Their efforts were amazing and now with their help The Other Side Of Everest Educational Foundation has been officially launched! The school raised over $850.00!!!! They truly represent my 'mission statement' - linking the children of inner city schools who have very little to give with the children of Nepal who also have so little. By giving we learn so much about ourselves. "My kids" are rock stars!
And so the best is yet to come! The foundation is in place. I have an awesome board of directors, a fabulous web site and am already busy raising money. We will be able to educate five children this year and send a deserving climbing Sherpa to the Khumbu Climbing School! Yup, all my kids are rock stars!!
Mid-June found me in Rhode Island on a bicycle riding in the MS 150. Not very smart taking this on with absolutely no training so soon after Everest!
I managed to
finish in a decent time, but I whined the entire 150 miles. In spite of the whining, I have to say those bike rides are the best and I encourage anyone who may want to participate in a fun, well-supported event to look into one of the many MS bike rides across the country. I have participated in so many I can give you a first hand account:

* my favorite
state (Louisiana was a blast!)
* the hardest ride (Colorado by far)
* the best food
(South Florida - okay, we drank margaritas in Key Largo... does that count?) I will be doing several more this fall so my list will certainly be updated. And somewhere in between all this fun and travel I met with trainer Jen in Boulder last week and it is time to once again get back in the saddle. Training commences in earnest in August... darn. I've loved my two months of food and wine and rest. I returned from Everest
12 pounds thinner, and yet I am resuming training over weight. As a friend says, "I've been eating like I am on death row." It's been great!
So I can confirm that, YES, I will climb the big Kahuna yet again next spring! I am anxious to return to my beloved Nepal because, more than the mountain, I have my Sherpa children to check up on, schools to meet with, and scholarships to award.

August will find me on the beach relaxing before I start a whirlwind tour of the US. Hope to meet many of you out there as I criss-cross the country this fall. I'm also anxious to meet my new class of fourth graders so we can begin another adventure together. My journey with MS continues to grow...
Have a safe and wondrous summer. See you on the road.
Climb On!

From the above link, you can go to a number of other posts, some of which are mine and others will link you directly to a couple of her blogsites ... just all sorts of good stuff here, actually! I published at least one more about her, where I talked about how she had made the really difficult decision to call it quits for this year.

Hers is a truly inspirational story, and I am really surprised that she has decided to even begin the arduous training necessary before attempting another try to reach the summit of the world's tallest mountain next year.

What surprising, joyful and courageous news this is, and I just couldn't wait to share it with all of you. I know that many of you will be joining me in sending as many positive thoughts as we possibly can her way in the coming months.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Around and about

Bridge ...

I've been playing a lot of bridge lately, it seems. Yesterday I played for the first time with Shyam (pronounced Shahm, as in yawn) Bhatia, who is going to be one of the other half for Rick Barrett's and my Swiss Team a week from Sunday at a Sectional bridge tournament. Bill Kiehnhoff and he have been playing together fairly regularly since both took a many year hiatus away from the game, and I thought it would be fun to have them on our team. Will let you all know how that turns out.

Shyam and I came in just out of the money yesterday, but it was a most enjoyable game. Many new bidding systems have come into existence since Bill and he were last playing the game, so he has some things to learn, but his basic understanding of the game is good. He is thoughtful and deliberate, and yesterday made an 'impossible' bid that - upon much further reflection by me - was absolutely brilliant!

There were what sounded like tremendous thunderstorms rolling in, so I took off out of there ... ... had one stop to make on the way home and didn't want to get caught in a drencher. As it turned out, the direction in which I was going was away from the storm (altho I didn't know it at the time). Steven, who is off for the summer, has been posting like crazy and writes about storms coming all the way up into Canada from here. Well, as it turns out, my house didn't get a drop out of this one, Steven, altho it sure sounded promising at the time!

[My electricity just went off for a few minutes, but the sun is shining. Perhaps I should go outside and see what's coming? Naah!]

Tonight, I'll be playing with Jeff Nuttall at Zilic's. It won't be our first time playing together. John has paired us up before. However, Jeff and I have decided that we'd like to try the 'partnership act' for real a time or two and see how it goes. We'll both be arriving at Z's early to fill out a convention card.

Tomorrow, as it's the second Wednesday, will see me mentoring Roop Prasad again. In addition to all of the above, Rick wants me to play with him for an hour on BridgeBase Thursday evening. We had about a one hour practice session last night. It was my first time playing bridge online. Different, and I could easily see how it might become addictive. I'll have to stay away from there. There are too many other things I am doing now to take me away from house-cleaning, record-keeping and throwing away items that should long ago have been relegated to 'nevernevertrashbinland'.

Sports ...

I called my son-in-law yesterday. When he answered the phone, I began our conversation with, "What the **** is going on with the Red Sox?" (They had just lost their 6th game in a row and had been swept by the Yankees.) He turned me off speaker.

Well, that's what it took, doncha know? Last night, the Sox beat the Detroit Tigers in their first of four series and the Yankees lost to Steven's lowly Blue Jays, who - all of a sudden - have decided to not disappear completely and become forever mired in the American League East's bottomless pit.

My Astros? Well, what can I say? They're in Florida for a four-game set against the Marlins, who are coming off of a very nice 3-game sweep of the Phillies. That Eastern division of the National League was - and for quite a while - thought to be fully secured by the Phillies. However, the Marlins - due to their win over my Astros last night - are now only 3.5 games back of the Phillies, with Patrick's Braves right on the Marlins' heels.

And so, what's been happening elsewhere within the National League Central? Well, Tammy's Cardinals - I think we can all safely say - have had far and away the easiest time of it, schedule-wise, and they've been taking full advantage of that fact. Chuck's Cubbies barely escaped a 4-game sweep by the Rockies out west and tonight will begin a 3-game set at home against the Phillies. No easy task there. Both teams will be fighting for their lives!

Has anyone been paying attention to the Washington Nationals? No one in 'our club' has a vested interest in that team, but ... ever since changing managers right around the All Star break, they've been winning games like crazy ... ... right now, they're 8-2 out of their last 10 and have won eight games in a row! Kind of hard to ignore a figure like that!!

A transformative moment ...

Steven has proposed the date of August 19th for everyone who is interested to participate in a 'first ever' meme. He gives explicit details here.

August 19th ... ... that's a week from tomorrow ... ... I'll have to think about it. Usually, tho, my realizations of life-changing moments or decisions come well after - sometimes years, even! - the fact. His idea is absolutely delicious and I can't wait to read what everyone else has to say! I'm hoping that I'll be able to contribute a post of my own but, as I said, I'll have to think about it.

That's all for today from Houston. Hope all of you are doing well. Let me hear from you. Meanwhile, I'll be following your posts and - while I might not leave a comment, will certainly be thinking about you and sending warm wishes your way.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A mishmash

A couple of sports-related paragraphs, one funny e-mail from Beth, and one not so funny. Let's begin with one of the sports-related.

Tonight, almost all eyes in the major-league-watching baseball world will be focused on NYC, where the Yankees will be 'entertaining' the Boston Red Sox in the first of four games featuring these divisional rivals. Without going back to personally review for my own satisfaction the history of previous series between the two this year, I'm simply going to repeat what I heard earlier on the radio - that the Red Sox had won all (could that possibly be right?) of their previous meetings. This will be a most interesting matchup and could easily have significant ramifications for the American League Eastern division's top two spots! Of much lesser interest in the next several days will be a 6-game set (a combination of home and away games) between the Astros and the Brewers, both of whom are duking it out for 3rd place in the National League Central ... ... ho hum!

Moving on ... ... Beth sent an e-mail warning me of the possibility of being electrocuted while using a mobile (or cell) phone while it was being charged. Some very ugly pictures accompanied her e-mail. They were kind of scary, actually!

I decided to go to "" for this one and I'm very glad that I did! The very same ugly photographs appear on 'snopes', but I invite you to read their whole accompanying - and very informative - article.

Btw, I have been guilty - altho not most of the time - of using my cell (or mobile) phone while it was being charged. And, I have sometimes thought, "What if ... ?"

Again, moving on ... ... ... We're now into football season. You know what? There was a time in my life when football was almost all-encompassing. It isn't now.

Lastly, I'd like to share with you Beth's latest e-mail. It's a funny one, (I think!). Enjoy!! It's called "Mid-life crisis solved".

After being married for 39 years, I took a careful look at my wife one day and said, 'Honey, 39 years ago we had a cheap apartment, a cheap car, slept on a sofa bed and watched a black and white 10-inch TV, but I got to sleep every night with a 22-year-old girl ... ...

Now I have a million dollar home, a $50,000 car, a nice big bed and plasma screen TV, but I'm sleeping with a 61-year-old woman. It seems to me that you're not holding up your side of things.'

My wife is a very reasonable woman. She told me to go out and find a hot 22-year-old girl and she would make sure that I would once again be living in a cheap apartment, driving a cheap car, sleeping on a sofa bed and watching a black and white 10-inch TV.

Aren't older women great? They really know how to solve a mid-life crisis.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Glory, glory, Hallelujah!

Ever since I first read Chuck's post of just a few days ago, I have been thinking of when I published my own tribute to Elvis - albeit in conjunction with Odetta - and have been viewing/reviewing, listening/re-listening, ever since, to various recordings that Elvis made.

Chuck's post focuses on Elvis' religious side. (Did you know that he had a religious side? He did! Not all of those perspiration particles were due to lighting. Elvis was truly a deeply religious person.)

I invite you to to partake of one (or more) of the Elvis recordings - mentioned, and some even included in various YouTube selections on Chuck's site - that contributed to Elvis' being nominated to receive Grammy Awards for "How Great Thou Art" and "He Touched Me".

My personal favorite of Elvis' continues to remain (my apologies, Chuck!) this one ... ...
... but I really appreciate your going in depth into more of this man's life that was cut way too short (I think we'd all agree).

Major league baseball

Since the All Star break, the teams in the American League East have fared pretty much as they stand in their division. Tammy's Yankees, who are currently in first place one half game ahead of the Boston Red Sox, came out with a torrid pace of winning eleven of their first thirteen games ... and, if it hadn't been for a nearly disastrous trip to Chicago, where they were almost swept by the White Sox in their 4-game set, this division would not be as close at the top.

My son-in-law's Red Sox slipped from 1st to 2nd place, primarily due to their very slow start out of the gate, where they lost two out of their first three to Steven's Blue Jays and then got swept by the Rangers. However, of their last 10 games, six were played against the hapless Orioles - the doormats of this division. The next few weeks will see seven head-to-head matchups between the Red Sox and Yankees. It'll be interesting to see how those games affect the 1-2 spots in the division.

Steven has hinted of some possible clubhouse friction and general discontent within his team. You know, when your team has fallen back as far as the Jays have, rumors (some based on truth, no doubt) will abound. I don't think it helped his team at all that Roy Halladay's name was bandied about so much during this period! The Blue Jays have a tough road to hoe coming up, with eleven (11!) games scheduled against the Red Sox and Yankees. The Jays beat the Red Sox 2 out of the 3 in their home park (haven't play the Yankees since the break), and I would imagine that the Sox will have that series loss fresh on their minds when they meet in Boston.

The Red Sox appear to have made the most trades and shuffling of players prior to the 31st deadline. Aram Tolegian says their acquisition of Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians has paid immediate dividends and writes that "the offense looks formidable again".

As I think I've told you before, the subject of trades holds very little interest for me, generally.

[I'm of the very old school (ancient, maybe?) that likes to see a player sign with one team - and, if it's a really good player, hopefully it will be my team! - and remain there throughout his playing career. I still haven't quite forgiven Nolan Ryan for signing with the Rangers in the waning years of his career - and, more power and credit to him, he still had another no-hitter or two to go before he finally retired his robotic pitching arm ... ... then, when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, chose to be inducted as a Ranger rather than as an Astro.]

However, it was impossible to ignore the Cardinals' acquisition of LF Matt Holliday - 7/24 - from the Oakland Athletics. Heavens to Betsy! By the time we faced the Cardinals this past weekend, Matt was batting .586 as a Cardinal. Just incredible! Prior to getting Matt in a trade, the Cardinals were 4-6 in games played. Since then, they are 5-2. That's a turnaround and a half!

The only thing that stopped this juggernaut was the introduction of Bud Norris - recently brought up from AAA - to the Astros' starting lineup. (We've had our own share of injuries!) Bud stopped them cold Sunday. Both Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday were O-fers in that game. One start does not a career make, I realize, but it sure did bring a smile to this fan's face!

I've already mentioned our being able to snatch Chris Coste off of the waiver wires from the Phillies on July 10th. A fortunate grab! Chris has filled in several times for Lance Berkman (1B) and has come off the bench to provide much-needed and timely hits. Welcome, Chris!

Did you think I had missed the Julio Lugo trade to the Cardinals from the Red Sox? I did not! We had him at one time. Sure, he's a huge threat to steal if he gets on base, but he makes a lot of errors at shortstop!

As far as trades for Chuck's Cubbies go, it appears as tho they were going for more left-handed pitchers. We'll see how that all works out. There's been criticism heard on both radio and television even this far south that they were (seemingly) unable to pick up a closer. (Perhaps there wa$n't a good one to be had?!?) I can only imagine the shouts that must be reverberating further north!

Meanwhile, the National League Central remains - while not quite as tuf and tight as it was just a couple of weeks ago - very interesting, indeed! As of this writing, the Cubs snd Cardinals are in a virtual tie for 1st/2nd with the Astros and Brewers in an absolute tie for 3rd/4th at 4 games back. I hadn't even begun to look at their schedules in the next few weeks, but I will now!

All right. I've looked at all of them. None really jumps out at me, and so I guess my next major baseball post will be in a couple or three weeks. Somewhere between here and there, Tammy, I'll probably do one on the wild card, which becomes of extreme interest around this time of year.

Hang in there, guys and gals! And, if your heart tends to palpitate horrendously at the slightest veer in the standings, make sure you have your rescuscitating tablets handy!!