Monday, December 31, 2007

A Family Reunion for Christmas!

Christmas in the Rio Grande Valley is not your white Christmas. Instead it is almost warm. Because the Valley is semitropical, the temperatures were in the high 60s. My sister, nephew, Dad and I went to the high school tennis courts Christmas afternoon. I'm not a tennis player but Dad won awards when he was a young man and my sister played with him and then with her kids for many years. It is a pretty good way to spend an afternoon.

The trip down to Weslaco was not as long as I had thought it would be. Instead of the 5 and a half hours I predicted it was just over 4. Stopping by the grocery store after gassing up, I left town at 7 AM and was home by 11:30. Was Mom ready to feed me? LOL No, she and Dad had eaten early and she was getting ready for her afternoon nap. Never the less she managed to get out some cheese and slice it for me and I added some bread with butter to that. A light lunch to be sure but I had snacked on a couple of candy bars on the trip down and wasn't ravenous.

My sister and her kids, having flown in from Asheville, NC, were shopping at a local outlet mall that has opened up since the last time I visited the Valley. They spent way too much on gifts for an aunt they hadn't seen in quite a few years but also got stuff for Grandmom and Granddad. I was surprised when I looked out the window to see their rental vehicle park near Mom and Dad's apartment. My nephew has his Dad's profile but my sister's eyes and smile. He had grown so much. The last time I saw him he was in elementary school. Now here he was at 20, a tall, handsome young man. If I start to sound like a proud Aunt forgive me. I come by that pride rightfully. My niece and nephew are both smart, fun young people and absolutely the most beautiful kids I've ever seen. I'm not exaggerating. They could model for a living. My nephew has this wonderful magnetic personality and a great sense of humor. My niece is a quiet leader who has lots of friends and a nice way with people.

Dad took us on a nice tour of the retirement community they live in. It isn't your typical retirement home. There is a very active community of intelligent senior citizens there and most of the residents have either apartments or small houses to live in. The community is owned by the residents and their new manager is doing a lot to make the place lively. They are having a New Years Eve dance tonight with a band. Here's a picture of Dad.

For gifts this year I couldn't spend much but got the kids Barnes & Noble gift cards. Jill received a hand held labyrinth that duplicates the one my church just built. That went over well. Dad received a new computer from Jill and I helped by getting him the dial up modem he needed. Apparently the Rio Grande Valley is hurting for high speed connections in many of its smaller towns. I wouldn't have called Weslaco small but I guess compared to McAllen it is. That's the town we go to when we want to do large city shopping. Mom got sweet smelling bath and foot stuff from her grandkids and I got her a bit of quality chocolate. What I got for Christmas was a great time with my family, some candles from my niece, a huge bottle of this nice liquid scent diffuser from my nephew, some cash from Mom & Dad and an absolutely great digital camera from my wonderful sister. My family is also in the habit of sharing books with one another so I went home with two more to add to my reading. These are books of a meditative nature and I'm sure I'll enjoy them very much. Dad gave my sister and her kids the tennis ball machine he had which shoots balls across the court for you to hit. They will put that to good use.

Here is a picture of my beautiful sister and her handsome son. It was dark in the living room and I don't think they expected me to be taking images that quickly. The camera came with a really tiny memory card. A bigger one is on order thanks to the great post Christmas sales and some good advice from David McMahon of authorblog. While we were spending time together I got to teach Nate how to work Sudoku. He really likes them so I hope he keeps doing them. It was so wonderful to find out that he and I have lots in common. Jill took time to teach me how to hit a tennis ball. Maybe on the next visit I can improve on what she started.

Monday night we had a wonderful family music session. Music has been a family tradition for as long as I can remember. My sister has a new electric guitar at home but brought Dad's old folk guitar with her. My nephew received Dad's soprano Ukulele and we played and sang a few well remembered folk songs from when Jill and I were teenagers. Tuesday night Dad brought out his slides from when the family backpacked and sailed. We all enjoyed revisiting Colorado and the Bahamas thanks to his good photography. Because Dad's new computer came with an all in one printer I hope to be able to get some copies of his slides. There were some of the beautiful sunsets and scenery that I'd love to share.

The early mornings were quality time between my sister and me. One of us would go down to the cafeteria and bring back coffee and we would sit on our beds, reminisce and catch up on what was going on in our lives. I missed that from when we were growing up in the Valley and it was so special to be able to do that again.

This one on the left is my niece. Isn't she gorgeous? She plays soccer and also field hockey at her local high school. She has spent time working in her fathers veterinary hospital and loves animals as much as she loves people. I think she plans on going into some medical field but at this point I don't think she knows which one she wants to practice in yet. No worries, she is a sophomore and will have several years before she has to decide.

Last but not least, here is the reason for the visit to the Valley, my wonderful Mom. She is what makes our family the close knit and caring group it is. She was a teacher when she was younger and is responsible for my love of books. She is also a really good cook and sewed most of my clothes for many years. Mom can paint, do counted cross stitch, and plays a mean hand of bridge. Her present memberships include weekly bridge games and a monthly study group which she is preparing a presentation for in a few months.

My sister and I have decided to try to stay closer to home since this visit went so well. That means that I should be able to see her and various parts of my family from time to time. I'm really looking forward to the next trip. Nate said his Mom had to bring him down too so I think that everyone will be benefiting from this time we shared together and life will just get better for all of us from this point forward.

Merry, merry Christmas to all and may your New Year be all you could hope for.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Eh? Too

Yesterday Susan posted that her status in The Truth Laid Bear (TTLB) ecosystem had suddenly jumped several levels. She'd risen from being a flippery fish to being a large mammal. There seemed to be no explanation for this. Today she is an adorable little rodent. Eh?

A while back I too joined the TTLB ecosystem. I didn't figure I'd rank in as much, probably an insignificant microbe. I was somewhat pleased to not be in the bottom rank. I entered as a multicellular microorganism. Today however, I have jumped up significantly, just like Susan did. I'm a lowly insect. This is a jump of 3 levels and my inbound links don't seem to have increased any. So like Susan I'm saying, "Eh?"

All confusion aside, I'm tipping my hat to the Asian Pop with YeinJee blog where I found the above image. It's Japanese insect origami. How cool is that?

There is a message in red at the top of the home page of TTLB. It says that an error is corrupting the ecosystem ratings and that a fix is in progress. I guess I'll be back to my multicellular microorganism level tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Taking It To a New Level

My father used to play the ukulele. He was pretty good at it and many nights he would sit at the foot of my sister's and my twin beds and play for us. We would sing along and learned many songs from my father as he passed on a musical legacy. As my sister and I got older we picked up guitars and Dad switched over to that instrument to keep us company. We had some really great family music sessions when I was a teenager.

Since I'm going home for Christmas I'm taking my guitar with me. My father has declared that he has no idea where his baritone ukulele is and I think he gave away his guitar. So I'm also taking a second guitar.

While goofing around on the computer I decided to check out YouTube and see if there were any ukuleles being played these days. As it turned out there are tons of them. There are even ukulele orchestras in Europe. I listened to a few and then found this one very excellent duet by a couple of guys. The piece is an original of their own design. If you keep an eye on the guy on the left you will see that he not only plays the ukulele well, he plays it like a classical artist. So here you go with a really nice ukulele duet. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Best Christmas in Quite a While

Two weeks ago, David McMahon of authorblog asked in his Weekend Wandering, "What was the best Christmas present you ever received?" I didn't have an answer then, but I do now. This Christmas is the best gift I've had in a long time. And the thing that makes it the best Christmas are the gifts that have nothing to do with wrapped packages and everything to do with family and friends.

For many Christmases I've had a pretty solitary time. I didn't travel anywhere. My family is lives elsewhere. I got checks and gift certificates in the mail from my family instead of wrapped presents. Sometimes I had nowhere to go on Christmas day. This year, that has all turned around.

The biggest and best gift, one I listed on my wish list last year, is that my sister is flying into Texas to see our parents and has asked me to come down and share a room with her. This is really exciting. I envision it being similar to when we were teens and bonded closely after both being away from home at different boarding schools. Even better, she is bringing my niece and nephew with her.

Spending time with my folks is gift number two. Especially the time with Mom. She and I were always really close when I was young and still are. She is the one I call every Sunday.

Gift number three is also coming from my sister. She has offered to buy me a digital camera. I've asked for a Canon PowerShot A570 IS. I hope she can find it at a good price.

Gift number four is coming from God through friends. I've suddenly got a Holiday social life. My church has formed groups labeled "Dinner for 6 to 8" and my group is gathering tomorrow night. The next Friday my Cursillo reunion group will be getting together at one of our houses to have dinner. Even David is having an Aussie Christmas Bash and it starts the day after I get back from seeing my family. Last but not least, two weeks ago my newfound friendship with San Meredith of A Life With a View moved beyond cyberspace with a phone call.

One more very special gift is that for the 3 Saturdays leading up to the holiday I'm scheduled to officiate at Morning Prayer. Looks like God is keeping me close this season!

So, while I've had other good Christmases in the past I've not had one so filled with God, family, and friends since I was a child. And that's the best gift of all. A happy, shared holiday season. I'm counting my blessings every night.

Merry Christmas all!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Don't Blame the System. Blame the Part.

In his latest Weekend Wandering, David McMahon asked the question: Have you ever sworn at a computer?

My answer David's question is, "No. I've worked far too long in the IP industry to ever cuss at a machine for mistakes that were the result of something other than its functioning." You can stop here if you don't want to read a litany of things that can go wrong in computer systems and why it isn't the machine's fault.

Computers today are a collection of systems, part mechanical, part software, and part human operator. A computer traditionally is just the hardware, useless without the rest of it but still, just a machine. Something other than its mechanical functioning is what most computer mishaps are. If the system crashes it is most likely the software design and not the equipment. If the browser crashes after opening a webpage it is most likely a bug in the browser that doesn't work with something on the webpage, again, not the computer's fault. I don't want to think about how often Firefox has crashed after I viewed one of CNN's videos.

Or it could be my fault. If my work gets lost because of a crash this was not the machine's fault. It was mine because I didn't save it early or frequently enough to protect myself. If I get a bug, worm, or virus and whatever else there is out there today it might be because I didn't take proper precautions or opened an email without thinking. But it might also be something new or a trusted friend who accidentally sent me the little nasty.

What a lot of people choose to forget is that computers aren't smart. They are very dumb, fast machines that need specific instructions to do what you want them to do. If I tell it to do something in a way it doesn't understand I can almost guarantee you that the machine will give me an error message or, thanks to the OS designers, ask for more instructions.

Yeah, I know, Microsoft bashing is a popular sport these days. But, for all its problems with security, Windows designers are first and foremost programmers and they know so much more than the rest of us about how to protect themselves that they have forgotten more than we will ever know. They are also human and get used to having those protections in place which is probably why they forget to give them to us. They also know how often they have to recode a piece of software which is why they put in so many "are you sure" and "give me more info" messages that pop up all too frustratingly at times. They were trying to be kind to the novice and even the intermediate computer literate when they did that. If we really hate the company we should probably stop supporting it with our dollars and change machines or the OS. There are other options out there.

All of the above doesn't mean I haven't cussed at a situation I found myself in because of something that happened with the computer. I just know better than to get mad at the dumb machine. Chances are it was that old infamous, "operator error" in the first place. This means, "I'm a dummy too."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Hilarious Memory

David McMahon in his latest post used part of the lyrics from the Purple People Eater song. That was a memory from my childhood. It came out in 1958, so I was all of 6 years old at the time. Strangely, I remember singing the lyrics later in life when I was a teenager living in Weslaco. We must have had a record of it at one time. If you've never heard the song, please take the time to listen to it. It is hilarious and so outlandish that it is no wonder I still remember it almost 50 years later. (G)

Additional thoughts:
It occurred to me that this is a bit of pop culture from my early years. They have whole games devoted to this kind of thing. Perhaps this song played a part in some later pop culture memories. When I was listening to it I thought I heard part of an old commercial that came out later. Does anyone besides me hear a line or two from "We wear short shorts"?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Alternative Gift Giving

For the past two Sundays my church has been holding its annual Alternative Gift market. What this does is provide our members with the chance to help out others in a global way. You can pick your charity or country of need and write a check which will be used to help individuals or communities in need. Of course you can do this giving either in your own name or in the name of a friend.

When I looked at the catalog I noticed that the offerings were broad in nature and in price. This assures me that even a small gift will be helpful to someone in a life changing way. So, in the interest of helping this organization out I thought I'd post a link to their website. From there you can either do a contribution or find other ways of helping. The site goes a long way in making one aware of all the many areas that are in need and connects with some really effective charitable organizations. The image is the cover of their 2007-2008 catalog.

So, if you are interested in making the world a better place this Christmas, or for any other occasion or reason please go to Alternative Gifts International.

Peace, Hope, and Joy this holiday season!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Trinity Christmas Concert '07

Last night I had the rare opportunity to go out with friends for a festive evening. Every year at this time Trinity University's Music Department puts on a Christmas Concert and offers it free as a gift to the San Antonio community. Some of my friends from church and I went to the show. While this was only my second time, Trinity has been doing this for 14 years now, and they are very good at it.

Most of our group decided to eat out first at La Madelaine before going to the campus. La Madelaine is a French restaurant chain which started in Texas. After some good food and conversation, we carpooled over. Finding ourselves arriving slightly late to get parking garage space, we went to one of the surface lots and walked across the lovely campus to Laurie Auditorium. The weather was misting but not cold so the walk was pleasant. Everyone headed to the concert was in a festive mood.

We got seats in the back of the auditorium but this didn't prevent us from seeing the show well or enjoying the sound. The auditorium has excellent acoustics, the stage was brightly lit, and the various groups were arranged for optimum viewing from all corners. I say groups because the program included performances by the Symphony Orchestra, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the Parker Handbell Choir, the University Chorus, and the Trinity Choir. At two points in the performance the audience was asked to sing along with the combined choirs as they performed Jingle Bells and Joy To The World. The show lasted just about an hour and there included a combination of both classical pieces and traditional Christmas music for which the MC gave us a brief bit of history.

After the show, the friends I had ridden with took me on a tour of some of the nicer parts of the neighborhood surrounding the university. This is a place in San Antonio where the houses become mansions and the yards are huge and well landscaped. Christmas lights were already out on many of these properties so there was lots to look at. It was a nice way to start the Christmas season.

I got home just before 10:00 pm and my cats were glad to see me. The Mormons across the hall from me were saying goodbye to fellow elders and they said hi to me so even my arrival home was friendly. The whole evening had just gone right. So much so that I feel it was a gift in itself. Thank goodness for a community rich in culture, a church with people who like the arts, and friends to enjoy them with.

Happy Holidays!