Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year Resolutions & Good Wishes

Many of my friends make New Year's resolutions and are quite successful at keeping them. I'm not all that self disciplined, so past resolutions were often forgotten by the time the excitement of the New Year ended. This year I'm hoping to change that. My best bud, JS, has made two resolutions that are inspiring, and I find myself wanting to make one too. It's been a few years since I partook in this tradition and I think I'm going to go about it in a different way. Instead of making a brand new change to initiate, I'm going to take a change that is starting to occur naturally and make a resolution to continue it through the year. On reflection, I think this is the method JS used to choose her two, so perhaps it's a better method because I always admire her careful and considerate actions.

For the past few weeks I've been feeling tense. This is especially noticeable in my shoulders and I find myself rotating them, my neck, and even grinding my teeth, none of which is good for you and often looks really weird. To try to alleviate this I've been getting down on the floor and doing 10 push ups, 10 leg raises, and 10 crunches. It seems to be helping, plus just doing it makes me feel better. I know that if I keep this up I'll be healthier and do more for my looks, self esteem, and general mood. Yay!

So this year my New Year Resolution is to continue to do those things and perhaps add in something else during the week that contributes to physical fitness. Thanks JS!

Happy New Year all! May it be the best you've ever had. May all your hopes and wishes for it come to pass. And may you be successful in keeping your resolutions.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Season for Miracles

Sunday's service and scripture readings reminded me that it is the season for miracles. The readings and sermon took us back to the night when Mary said, "Yes!" to an angel and became the mother of Christ. That bit about miracles always gives me a sense of wonder. Perhaps that's because miracles are so unexplainable or often answers to desperate needs. Whatever the reason, when we are the recipient of one we are as delighted as a child opening presents on Christmas day.

I happen to believe in miracles. Not just because the scriptures tell us they happened or the fact that a virgin gave birth to the son of God, but because I've been the recipient of a couple. They happened many years ago when I was just into my 30s and only recently come to believe fully. In an earlier post I told of how I came to believe and how I feel that was a miracle. I probably didn't call it such, the word miracle often engenders words of scorn from those who don't believe. But feeling the Holy Spirit pouring into you and establishing that connection with God surely classifies as one.

The church I came to full faith in was a small nondenominational church, Calvary Chapel of Corpus Christi. There were only about 40 members and 30 or so were regular attendees. With two services a week, a weekly bible study, and fellowship night on Friday's we became like family. And like any good family we enjoyed doing things together. During my time with that church we took 2 trips.

The first was a church retreat to Garner State Park. We weren't part of a huge network of congregations, so our church leaders called the park and reserved a group of campsites for us to use. Just about everyone left work early that day and got up there by late afternoon, but not me. I needed to finish my shift. My car was already packed with clothes and any supplies I had deemed important. So at 4:00PM I got into my car and headed out of town.

It's about a 6 hour trip to Garner, so by the time I got in it was dark and the park office had long since closed. Not having been foresighted enough to contact the group leaders, I didn't have any idea where the campsites were and driving around the camp in the dark seemed a bad idea. I checked the camp bulletin board and learned that if I parked my car near the office I could pay my camping fee in the morning when they opened. It was already after 10:00 PM and that seemed the most reasonable option. But as I set my car seen into recline to sleep the night there other vehicles started coming in and camping near where I was camped. They didn't all look like nice cars and some of the folk getting out of them looked less than reputable. I was getting sort of scared.

Just as I started to think about moving my car, up drove the truck of one of my church family and the owner and his son got out. I got out of my car and greeted them joyfully and with much relief. They knew the campsite number, had been there since just after night fell, and had been trying to find the campsite for a really long time. Over 4 and 1/2 hours in fact. They'd come to check the park map one more time before calling it quits. I got into their truck and we headed for one more trip around the circuit. And just after we started on the dirt road there it was! The very first campsite on the right! We pulled in, grabbed the camping gear and set up the tent at almost midnight. They let me share their tent so I had a safe place to spend the night.

Come morning we all talked about that night and looked at the camp roads again. They weren't difficult to navigate. Nor were the signs hidden from view but right there along the edge of the road. No reason we could come up with explained away the fact that they hadn't found the campsite location for over 4.5 hours. And I think that was the miracle. The site was so easy to find and I was so lost that we decided that God had "blinded" them to the location until they had reunited with me. I had one more wondrous experience while we were there that weekend. On Sunday morning just as we started service there in the sky was my first double rainbow.

The second trip was to the San Antonio Zoo. Corpus Christi isn't that far from San Antonio so we made a day trip of it. We left town really early in caravan style and got up there shortly after the park opened.

We had tons of fun wandering around looking at the different animals. Many of the church family had children, so the mothers and kids tended to stay grouped together as we went through the park. Steve Phillips and I were discussing prayer languages and speaking in tongues. Steve had experienced this but I hadn't and was curious. So on a pretty bridge overlooking a waterway, we stopped to talk about it.

We were so engrossed in our conversation that we didn't realize that the others had gone on without us. They hadn't noticed us stopping either, so they didn't tell us where they were headed for next. So, when our conversation finished, there Steve and I were looking around confusedly and checking our map to see if there was anything that looked likely. We didn't have a clue. Being mindful of the reason we were there, we did what any good Christian would do in such a situation; we started praying. Suddenly I got this immense urge to move, and in a specific direction. I didn't know where I was going, only that I had to go and which way. I grabbed Steve and hauled him off with me, explaining what I was feeling along the way.

So sure was I of my direction that we were moving really fast, not even checking the park map. As we raced across what was seemed like half the park Steve decided to check out a side building, but I didn't wait for him. He quickly decided to rejoin me and caught up with me just as I was headed through a pair of gates. Once through the gates we found ourselves in the Children's Petting Zoo and there they were. We were so happy to find them that it was a very joyous reunion. If Steve and I had tried to logic our way through that situation we might have eventually come up with the Children's area, but young singles are often clueless about what would motivate marrieds with kids. So heaven only knows if we would have ever come up with the right location. We could have wandered around for hours trying to find them.

Now when I think of a virgin giving birth to the one person who could reconcile our accounts with God, bringing us back into full communion with him, I tend to believe the stories we tell every Christmas. The rest of the world seems to want to believe in miracles too. Why else would we work so hard to help the needy or give desperately sick children and their parents the gift of joy and hope. So this year when you see the stars in the sky, and on top of your tree, I hope you'll join me in letting the wonder of the season fill your heart and believe.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Running Like Mad, then Screeching to a Halt

Most of last week seemed to be spent at church. Preparations were underway for a huge weekend of activities and momentous events. We were gearing up for the ordination of our Assistant Rector and the celebration of our 40th Anniversary as a church. Volunteering for the liturgy planning committee for the 40th Anniversary festivities got me the job of coordinating a fellowship walk to be held on Saturday and a streamers in the garden activity to be done after the celebration service. This was my first time being involved in something like this. It was exciting! It was also stress filled! I gained a lot of awareness of how things work around the church and how much work goes into some things. For all the help I got I'm very thankful!

The idea of streamers came during a planning meeting and it's purpose was to let people share what they found of value and happiness by being a part of our church. They would write a word or phrase on a brightly colored paper ornament and hang it in our prayer garden. Our Sexton, Esther, helped me set up the streamers in the garden activity. We picked out colors of paper, decided on 3 shapes (circle, rectangle, and star), chose decorating materials, and then saw to the printing of some of them. Our Parish Coordinator, Priscilla, got the rest printed. Esther also gathered the ribbons needed for hanging them; our other sexton, Eduardo, hung string between trees so that we had somewhere to hang them (we'd just trimmed the garden trees losing all the lower branches in the process). But the work of assembling them still needed doing. So, on Friday, the wonderful folk of the bulletin folding crew and I, cut out the ornaments, punched holes in them, and attached ribbons. I showed up at the start of bulletin folding and helped with that too. On Sunday the garden was very festive looking with colored paper ornaments fluttering throughout.

Friday afternoon's folding and ornament set up finished at 4:15 PM. Since I am in the choir I needed to be back at 6:00 PM, so I raced home, cleaned up, dressed in celebratory fashion, and headed back to church. The service was at 7:00. We robed for this event and looked pretty good in our red and gold. Extra choir members from other churches who wanted to share in honoring Matt arrived. With the extra voices we sounded better than ever. We sang a huge Handel number, Zadock the Priest, which had lots of vocal challenges to it.

The whole service was so exciting our attention hung on every moment. Matt's best friend from college gave the sermon and it was wonderful. He kidded Matt, and made good points about being a good priest in the process. The point of the sermon was that Matt was called to extra ordinary measures in his service. The camaraderie exhibited by them gave the whole service a warm friendly feel. The attendees got to step out of the normal role of congregation as we were invited forward to join with the priests as they placed their hands on Matt while the Bishop was ordaining and blessing him. When the service was ending Matt's first official function was to say the blessing. Then we went to Brown Hall for a really great reception. When I got home about 10:00 I had no problem falling asleep even though I was keyed up from all the excitement.

Saturday morning I was scheduled to celebrate Morning Prayer, so I got to the church about 6:45 AM. This is a wonderful way to start your day! You get scheduled time alone with God in the place where you worship him and do things that really focus you on Him. I'm thinking I'd like to do that more often.

After Daily Office was finished, I went home and made my sack lunch for the 10:30 events. A Fellowship Walk, picnic lunch, and Remembrance Altar build that had been Paschal's ideas were the events for the day. Those of us who showed up had a good time walking to St. Mary's Hall, which was where we held services before we had any structures on the 5 acres we bought to build our sanctuary on. Janet came along and told us all she could remember of the early days. Our church was started back in the 60's, a decade filled with turbulence, but our founding members had a vision of the future that included everyone that wanted a church home. So we deemed ourselves "reconcilers to the world" and became the Episcopal Church of Reconciliation.

Here we are on the Fellowship Walk, strolling down Starcrest. The day was nice and the company was the best!

This is the sign at the back gate of St. Mary's Hall's campus. We'd hoped to go inside and look around, but that would have needed more planning and coordination than we did.

When we got back we started right in on the altar build. That was a lot of fun, and we now have a lovely arrangement of memories on tables in our South Narthex. There are pictures of past priests and members, things from the children's classrooms, and too many symbols to list. I've only been at the church for 6 years and the only thing personal I'd thought to put on the altar was my Book of Common Prayer which I'd received when I was received into the church in 2003. I didn't because when I looked there were already two very appropriately historical versions already on it. Thinking about what I love about this place I realized that most of all I value the fellowship I've found there, so I went to the kitchen and borrowed a coffee cup and spoon to add to the altar.

Here's the Remembrance Altar in all it's glory. The painting on the side was done by Gordon West, a long time member of our church, for our first rector. The one behind the alter is the work of Tina Karagulian, wife to Paschal.

We ate our picnic lunches in the church library and enjoyed getting acquainted with Tina's family, playing a game with Paschal and Tina's son, and hearing more stories about the church and our newest priest. Both before and after these events I noticed lots of activity in Brown Hall. The dinner/reception committee and many volunteers were setting the tables and making the hall ready for Sunday's dinner. It was absolutely amazing! I headed home mid afternoon, and relaxed as much as I could, knowing that I needed to be back at church early for the choir practice and any additional setup needed for the streamers activity.

Here's what all the activity in Brown Hall created for us, a lovely dining room complete with banners hanging above us, to show off the trappings of our sanctuary through the seasons. We were set to handle 250 people.

This closeup of the place settings may give you an idea of the lengths gone to for this service and dinner. Those table runners were made at the church by a member who brought in her sewing machine for the day. By the time we sat down to eat, pine cones had been added, fresh rosemary stems for fragrance and remembrance, and the candles were all lit.

When I walked into the church on Sunday morning I noticed our rector, Robert, sitting on a bench in his street clothes, reading over the service for the day. It sounded like he was rehearsing. That seemed comforting somehow, and I found myself enjoying the idea that he practices like that before every service. I beat the choir director to church, heck, I beat most people in getting there. I had time to look around, find a cup of coffee, and get a hug or two from friends. Hugs seem to help me relax. You put your arms around someone warm and comforting, squeeze them together thus tightening the muscles, and when you let go, your muscles relax further than they had been pre-hug. I grabbed as many as I could.

The service went off beautifully! One of our members, James, had made a multimedia presentation that was awesome! In it, while playing old songs from the 60's, the times were remembered, the mission of our church, and it's history as it has grown. At one point the choir sang, "I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry". The visuals finished with pictures of all the priests who'd been our rectors and the young priests they had helped get through seminary and become full priests at our church. One of our concerns when setting up the service was that we wanted the children to be involved. So Robert held a children's sermon. He got them to think about our beginnings as a church and how the founders were thinking of their future. He finished it by asking them to hug the founders in thanks and then stand beside them as he blessed them all. The sermon was by Sam Todd who was our second rector. In it he tied our first service celebrated on our new campus with the Christmas season (it had been on Dec. 24th, 1968) and our name, Reconciliation, with the advent of Christ and how he came into the world to reconcile us to God.

When the service was finished we all processed into the garden and remembered those of our members who had passed on but been remembered for their help in building up our community. Then we did the ornament activity and went in to eat a very nicely catered lunch. The whole meal was set before us by members who had volunteered to act as servers. We had 250 people in attendance and it was a three course meal so this was a lot of love being given out. While we were enjoying the wonderful food, Robert was up on the stage honoring those who helped accomplish all of this. He received a surprise or two himself, as the community had put together some things on its own. One of our members had gotten the artists among us to put together an album, to be added to through the years, of some of their works. There were some beautiful examples of art in it, including a full page of calligraphy complete with illumination. Our body had also commissioned a new hanging for the church in Robert's honor to be hung behind the altar. There was much symbolism in it. It was a cloth replication of a work of art by an artist he greatly admires. The painting it was based on is called "Finger 2". It's green, navy, and purple swirls looked like finger prints. The symbolism in the finger print is that through action and ministry we've all left our mark. Robert has certainly left his mark on our church and we are so blessed to have him as our rector. He's taking a 6 month sabbatical this year, but will come back refreshed and ready to take up the reins again and help us grow even more. And during his absence, our newest priest will be taking the reins in his very creative and capable hands.

After dinner was eaten, everyone who noticed how hard all the servers had worked stuck around and helped clean up. We cleared tables, stacked chairs, gathered in table cloths, and sorted out ornaments that had been used. When I got home just after 2:00 PM I felt a sense of contentment, but also the fading of the high energy that had been needed for the week. When I'd dropped everything and plopped into my chair, I called Mom and gave her a fairly full report. It's amazing that all of that only took 15 minutes to tell. That evening I talked to JSD and retold her as much as I could remember. Guess I needed the retelling to finish winding down.

Now the feeling of controlled chaos is over. The next week is started. The tension is not quite out of my shoulders, but I'm no longer running back and forth to church and calling or emailing people. After all of the activity high, it is sort of a letdown and I look forward to the next spurt, probably in preparation for the Christmas eve services. The picture at the beginning of this post is of the Fellowship walkers being goofy with our new church sign. Guess no one will ever call us serious now.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jury Duty

This is the Bexar County Courthouse, a historical building still in use in Downtown San Antonio, TX.

If you live in the USA, every so often you get called for jury duty. Monday was my day to serve. I'd already postponed it once because of work so I didn't think I should try again. Mind you, this day happened right after a very busy weekend where I traveled away overnight, attended a dinner at my rector's home, and even managed to make an offering for the table. So this added a lot of stress.

The jury summons isn't the easiest of documents to read, but it's clear enough in its instructions. It tells you when to get there, 8:00AM, and to not be late. It tells you where parking can be found. Then it tells you that parking is expensive and hard to find even if you do drive into downtown San Antonio. Last time I was on jury duty I drove my car and parked in the parking tower across the street. This time I didn't want to deal with the heavy traffic and I hadn't been downtown in quite a few years so I was no longer familiar with its streets. The city in its wisdom sent a bus pass along with the summons so I elected to use it.

I've ridden buses before but not in San Antonio. To accomplish the mission of getting to court on time I had to research the route. Of course, I didn't do this till Saturday and the bus offices are closed on weekends. I had to use the website. It had a handy utility that allowed you to plan your route. By using it I was able to discover that I needed to take bus route 17 and that I was to meet it at the Randolph Park & Ride. Then I looked up the bus schedule for that route and the location of the Park & Ride. Even with a map the website didn't have an address for the Park & Ride so I had to google it. Then with directions in hand I decided to take the 7:00 AM bus which would get me there before 7:30. It was an express bus so the ride only took 18 minutes inbound. The outbound trip was more like 25 minutes.

I'm the kind of person who gets incredibly nervous on streets and areas I'm not familiar with. That's because I can get incredibly lost. My cell phone has functioned as a navigation aid in getting to work more than once when detours rerouted me. So, I got driving directions from Yahoo. I carefully printed out the route, the schedule, even a map of the downtown bus stops. I stuck this all with my summons and the bus pass and into my purse they went. I set my clock for 5:00 AM so that I could get up and be fully awake when I tried to find a new place in the dark. My body protested both going to sleep and getting up. For sleep I took a pill and for waking I trusted the sounds of Credence Clearwater Revival blasting from my CD radio.

Jury duty is boring. You sit in a huge room with a lot of other people. Knowing this I brought several books to read, some sudoku, and a bottle of water. I also packed a couple of pop tarts figuring that I didn't want to pay for lunch at downtown tourist prices. The Park & Ride was not as hard to find as I'd feared. The bus was already there when showed up. The driver told me he would tell me when to get off. So I sat down near the front and off we went.

When I got off the bus the Justice Center was across the park from where I was so I had about half a block to walk. Once there the doors were manned by security guards with metal detectors and scanners for your bags. These security measures were put in place back in the '90s because someone brought a gun into a courtroom and shot someone with it.

The jury room is in the basement and once there we had to line up in the hall where they took our filled out surveys which had been a part of the summons. Then we walked single file into a room with over 400 chairs. I found a seat near the front and was happy with that. The lady next to me turned out to be a grandmother who had a daughter that was close to giving birth. She also had other grand kids to babysit but she was there anyway. We had nice chats all morning long, interrupted occasionally by periods of intense listening while they read off a list of names. Those people who were called would then be taken to a courtroom by an officer and there serve their duty. Or not.

By noon I hadn't been called so the grandmother and I decided to go to lunch outside. The woman on the other side of her got invited too and we discussed where to go. They elected to do Bill Miller's which is a barbecue chain. I said that was fine and had intended to just eat my Poptarts. The new lady decided that wasn't good and bought me lunch. We took our food to go and went out to sit in the park. There was one table left that I could see and we made a beeline for it.

When we sat down it turned out there was a band warming up in the corner across from us. They played in a Latin style and the music was pretty good. So was the food and the company. Once the eating was done I took out my camera and took some pictures.

This is a picture of the band as they were playing. Occasionally someone from the listeners would get up and dance around in front of them to the music.

These are my dining companions. The lady in pink is the grandmother and the professionally dressed lady was the one who bought me lunch.

From where we were sitting you could see a good bit of the surrounding area. The park is in the midst of the oldest part of Downtown and is taken care of zealously by the City Parks Division. This building was pretty far away but the tower is famous for its gargoyles which you might be able to see. They are those little projections off the side at each level. There's a stature up on tome too but I don't think it shows in this view.

There used to be huge trees filling the whole park. Recently they discovered that all the trees were diseased and most had to be cut down. The city put in these fountains which are nice looking and there are some decorative tiles placed throughout the park. What was missing was all the grass and squirrels that inhabited the ancient live oak trees.

It being Christmas season the city is putting on the ritz. The Riverwalk is bright with lights through all the trees and this was the tree that had been placed and decorated for the park. It looks like they hired a decorator to do it. Behind it you can see the front of one of the oldest churches in town. I think it is Anglican but I may be wrong. San Antonio started as a Mission community so there are several churches in the downtown area.

Update: Paschal tells me this is a Roman Catholic church and is the San Fernando Cathedral.

Here's an unimpeded view of the church architecture. These were taken while strolling and I wasn't in the best of positions to get pictures of the entire building at once. So I took the next shot.

Here you can see the height of the church and a better view of its architecture. I'm not sure but I think it is Gothic style of some sort.

I wanted to show you the spires on the courthouse. I think they are rather interesting in their different styles. The building is so old that there have been some carefully done renovations on it recently. But old as it is, San Antonio still loves it and it is in full use.

Here's a better view of the entire courthouse. It's pretty big. The Justice Center which is right next to it is even bigger and while pretty enough for modern buildings, no where near as interesting.

My name was called for a panel at 1:45. This was the biggest panel they called and the request was for 50 people. The judge told us she only needed to call 32 but knowing how things can run she called for 50 and they were glad they had. It was a felony case. That's about all I can tell you right now. I was not selected for the jury for which I was grateful. They let us go at 4:45 and we raced down to the jury room to get our passes and make sure that everything was in place to show we had served our day.

I went outside to locate the bus stop. It turned out to be about a block away. The bus returning was not as full as the morning bus had been but the conversation was more lively. The ladies who rode this one were used to taking it home together. One of them was knitting and quite accomplished at it. She was making a tank top for herself. The whole ride was pleasanter for her friendly conversation.

When we reached the Park & Ride a nice gentleman told me the best way out of the lot which was very helpful because the traffic at 5:30 was intense. I made it home safely and except for a dirty car was none the worse for wear. The cats were glad to see me and were eager to eat. I managed to stay up and even played a game of Scrabble with Sandi.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The 7 Unusual Things About Me Tag

As I told San when she tagged me for this, I've spent more time trying to fit in and be usual than unusual. So this is going to be a bit awkward as I dredge through years of personal history to find 7 things. Some of them may not be that unusual.

1) For the 3 months after I was born I would not allow myself to be put down. If my Mother, Grandmother, or Grandfather tried I screamed until someone picked me up again. During this period Dad went off to fight in the Korean War. Can you imagine the round the clock shifts of parenting this took to keep me calm? Guess it was a good thing I was born in the upstair bedroom of Grandmother's house. There were loving arms ready to help Mom survive her post natal stressor, me.

2) Because I was cross eyed as a child I never developed depth perception. Not even after corrective surgery in 5th & 6th grades. My eyes work independantly of one another and my brain ignores the one not pointed directly at the object I'm looking at. So it goes off to look to the side. That affects peripheral vision too. I have less than the normal range. This makes many things more difficult. I'm terrible at most sports, especially those involving balls moving towards me. But for marksmanship it works out pretty well as you only use one eye to sight along a rifle barrel.

3) When I was in elementary school, this would have been in 5th grade, I became a human ball. I was so slender and light that the other kids would gather around me, pick me up, and throw me from one group to another. Or toss me in the air and watch me land. I got pretty good at using my legs as springs to take up the shock.

4) When I went through bootcamp I was happy and at peace with my world for the first time. That sounds weird even to me. Bootcamp is supposed to be hard and often a miserable experience. Instead I knew exactly what was expected of me and that worked so well for me that I found myself mentally singing happy songs while marching in formation.

5) My voice has a much greater range than I can actually use when performing with the choir. It all depends on who I'm following and how relaxed I am. When following a soprano I can sing most of the way up to the top of second soprano. When following the altos I have the full range now, that wasn't the case as a teenager in high school. When I have a really strong tenor voice right beside me I can now follow him partway down into that range. I've even tackled some of the higher bass notes. I discovered I could do this while singing along with the choir director at Krueger Middle School. Even he was impressed.

6) I tried out for a broadway style musical in college by singing a Korean War Song. It was Hut Sut Ralston on the Rillarah. The director was amazed and I got a part in the chorus. Here's a video clip from the Fibber & Molly Magee show of a quartet singing it.

7) I know songs from 4 wars. That probably isn't that unusual for people my age but I think it is kind of interesting. My grandparents taught me WWI songs, including Good Morning Mr. Zip. My Dad taught my sister and me stuff from WWII and the Korean War. I grew up during the Vietnam War so all those popular numbers from Hello Vietnam were familiar. And now I guess I have to add songs from a 5th war to my musical repertoir, the War on Terrorism. Who doesn't know that song by Toby Keith, Couresy of the Red, White, & Blue.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Really Beautiful Service

Sunday, November 30th, was the traditional day for the start of the Advent Season and is honored at my church by holding a Lessons & Carols service. Even though there was no communion, it was a fairly complicated service with 7 different readings, 14 hymns and anthems, a flutist for some of them, and full recordings both video and sound. All in all things went really well.

The choir had been preparing for this service for weeks. Some of the pieces were pretty challenging, including 2 in different languages and one in old English. On Sunday morning we were handed copies of all the hymnal pieces to add into our notebooks.

We have a new choir director, Cindy, who did a really good job getting us ready for this. In addition to lots of practice on the more difficult sections of each anthem, she made practice CD's for the altos and basses so that we could make sure our parts were learned. I'm sure that hadn't been her original plan as many of our members are very experienced and some are professionally trained musicians. But I was new, nervous, and holding back when we'd come to a part in a number I didn't feel confident of. So she planned on making one for me. I mentioned my gratitude for her generosity to some of the other members thinking that they would agree and never expecting them to feel they needed one too. Oops! So I made copies of mine and Cindy made another set for the basses. Man, that really helped. I'd play it at home and sometimes find myself waking up with a melody in my head.

The choir wore robes for the first time in my experience. Ours are red with a white/gold stole. The robes had been borrowed by another church and not returned promptly so we had to get them back. Then, because there were several new members, we had to do a trying on and organizing so that each person had their own robe and knew where to find it. It all worked out well and the one really short, almost car coat length, robe turned out to be for our member who is on a scooter the entire service. Being physically challenged is no deterrent to joining our choir.

Saturday I was sitting at my computer practicing with the CD and up popped a slider from Facebook telling me that our Assistant Rector was headed to Lessons & Carols practice. "What practice," I cried? Then being unable to reach anyone in the know I got in my car and raced over to the church to be sure I wasn't missing an important session. Turns out it was for the readers. One of our Adult Education classes these past few months has been "Drama of the Word" taught by our Assistant Rector, Matt, and a new member, Sam Gilliam, who teaches drama at Trinity University. She is the second drama teacher we have now, the other one being Stacey Connelly. Looks like Reconciliation will have a lot of drama in its future. This really excites me because I studied drama in college and love getting involved in things like that.

When I got to the church it was obvious I wasn't needed for the rehearsal, but Altar Guild was also there setting things up. Since I am on that I decided to help. All things work to the good for those who love the Lord! We changed fair linens, put up the altar hangings, changed out candles, and replaced the wicks in the lighters. We even found where the steamer was so that we could get the folds out of the hangings. They'd been in the closet too long.

When Sunday morning came around we hurried to get our robes on, our music organized, and practiced getting up on the stage once. Suddenly it was time and we were in the middle of the performance. I wish you could have been there to see and hear what I was hearing from my chair in front of the altar. The readers were behind us taking different voices during the readings. The acoustics are awesome under the rotunda so the choir was clearly heard and I could hear and match my voice to my choir director's, she sings alto too. One of the readings had this echo affect where every one of the readers echoed each other in gathering succession with a phrase. It sounded like the angels in heaven crying out, praising God over and over again.

Robert told the congregation what "amen" meant and that he knew they wanted to say one, so the entire church said, "amen" and applauded the choir and readers. That was so nice and something I like about my church, they give you a lot of support and appreciation when you are involved in things.

After it was all over and I was headed down the hall, I overheard our choir director telling another member that she, "didn't know any local choirs, not even professional ones, that could do what we had just done." That made me laugh, because she had been telling us over and over again that this was all, "pretty basic stuff." Now that's a good choir director! After hearing that my confidence is up and I'm really looking forward to the 3 big services we have coming up: 1) Matt's Ordination, 2) our 40th Anniversary service, and 3) the Christmas one.

Post Script: I was hoping to start this post with a nice video of one of the songs we sang for Lessons & Carols. But the one I wanted to post had the greatest voices but a heart rending image of Christ carrying his cross. The painting is probably famous, but I just could not bring myself to post that image on this joyous season. So, with that warning, here are links to 7 of the songs we sang yesterday. None of these videos are of us. If I get access to one I'll try to fix that and post it instead. Until then I hope you enjoy these. And if you want to avoid the video with the Christ carrying his cross image during a season when we are celebrating his birth I totally understand. It's the second one. But the group that sings that one is Vocal Point of BYU and worth hearing. Your choice.

Hanacpachap cussicuinin

E'en So Lord Jesus Quickly Come

Every Valley (Not Handel's Messiah but same words)

Prepare Thyself, Zion by JS Bach

One Perfect Flower (this is just a clip of the solo)

Maria Walks Amid the Thorn

Ave Maria by Franz Biebl

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Playlist Update

After getting a coupon from AT&T for a free ringtone, I went looking for a new song for the playlist. It would be the same song I'd add to my phone, if I weren't concerned about the cost of going online on it to download it. Doesn't that mean you pay for downloading time? I'm not sure how much that would cost but I don't like the idea. My last LG phone came with lots of free songs. This one has none. Anyway, the new song is "Our Song" by Taylor Swift. I love country and she is contemporary country, but what I like about this song is the intensity of romance expressed in it. It's young, and very hot in tone but somewhere in the lyrics they got it right. It's at the very bottom if you want to hear it. I thought about adding Teardrops on My Guitar too but while I love the chorus the lyrics are a sort of sad and I didn't feel like doing sad songs today. Maybe another time. Enjoy!

Book Tag

JSD, Paschal, and Alt have all done this so I guess it's my turn. Most of my books are ones I just couldn't bear to part with.

How this tag works:

(a) Fiction book
(b) Autobiography
(c) Non-fiction book
(d) A fourth book of your choice, from any genre

Explain why the books are essential reads, in 30 words or less. (For maximum fun, try for 30 words exactly).

: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
If I hadn't read this I doubt I'd have read the trilogy. An easy stepping stone to the rich tome which some find daunting. LoTR is richer after reading this.

Autobiography: Hate to say it but, I've read biographies but no autobiographies that I can recall.

Non-fiction: In The Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
Most history books are dry. This one isn't. It makes a connection between classic literature and fact. This award winner is now an American History classic. Info and 1st chapter are here.

Any book of your choosing: The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by William S. Baring-Gould
By the time I finished these two volumes I could guess the plot's finish. Pictures and notes in the margins make the stories richer and provide social context on Doyle's popularity.

As Paschal so neatly put it, Tag! You're it!

Update: Paschal suggested I break the rules and list a biography. Great idea! Thanks, Paschal! This turned me to the Public Library page for a search of topics. The related subjects clued me into a book I both like and am still in the process of reading. So here's my biography entry.

Biography: Sex With Kings : 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge by Eleanor Herman
Great behind the scenes stuff! What attracted me were mistresses' pictures and answering the question, "Why would someone want to be a mistress?" It has its own website, here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Could You Survive in Poverty? - A Perspective Quiz

When I was attending college I went through a workshop designed to give me a better understanding of the conditions people in poverty live under. It was based on the book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" by Ruby Payne. Life has a way of teaching us some of the things necessary to survive hard times and they are never fun, especially when we have a family to worry about.

Historically, life has always been hard. There have been easier times, but I don't think the world will ever eradicate poverty. I used to see lots of emailed stories about how people were more blessed by simple things than by fancy stuff, things like a night spent lying with your family and friends on a blanket in your back yard observing the stars with your naked eye instead of sitting in front of a TV watching a DVD on a big screen TV or playing a video game on your x-box or computer. I don't see many of those examples in my emails now. Maybe people feel that we are all having to remember simpler lives with less wealth to provide us with entertainment.

Because income levels have an insular effect on society, even those who work with the poor can be immune to how lives really function at the generational poverty level. And, sadly, that is what many parts of our country and others have, life long poverty that you can't escape to give your child a better life. When you live like that your whole perspective changes. Things that you or I might find insupportable are just a fact of life to the poor. For instance, moving in less than a day because you can't make the rent at your present home. When I talked to the associate rector at my church he told me that this kind of workshop was also part of his education. But is education in this enough? My parents and grandparents lived during the great depression. I have lessons in economics they taught me from those times. My father has never paid even so much as a penny of interest on a credit card in his entire life. My church prides itself on being reconciling but we are a pretty affluent church, not wealthy, but no where near poor. Our rector is an ex NY lawyer and his wife is too. Their kid is going to college in Boston. Our whole church does a whole lot to help the poor, but even so, I wonder what any of us would do if we suddenly found ourselves poor?

The most telling thing in the entire workshop was a quiz which we were required to take. It was based on the skills you needed to survive at different levels of income. I've decided to share this quiz because many of us, myself included, need a reminder that just because we live at one level of income doesn't mean things won't change. I think many in our country are experiencing that and if this quiz helps any of you interact with your friends, who may be struggling, in a way that is more reconciling then that's a good thing. But if this quiz doesn't teach you anything, be forewarned, life may do it.

Could you survive in middle class?

Count the number of items you know how to do:
1. I know how to get my children into Little League, piano lessons, etc.
2. I know how to set a table properly.
3. I know which stores carry the clothing brands my family wears.
4. My children know the best name brands in clothing.
5. I know how to order in a nice restaurant.
6. I know how to use a credit card, checking account and savings account—and I understand an annuity. I understand term life insurance, disability insurance and 20/80 medical insurance as well as house, flood and replacement insurances.
7. I talk to my children about going to college.
8. I know how to get one of the best interest rates on my new car loan.
9. I understand the difference among the principal, interest, and escrow statements on my house payment.
10. I know how to help my children with their homework and do not hesitate to call the school if I need additional information.
11. I know how to decorate the house for the different holidays.
12. I know how to get a library card.
13. I know how to use most of the tools in the garage.
14. I repair items in my house almost immediately when they break—or know a repair service and call it.

Could you survive in poverty?
Count the number of items you know how to do:
1. I know which churches and sections of town have the best rummage sales.
2. I know which rummage sales have “bag sales” and when.
3. I know which grocery stores’ garbage bins can be accessed for thrown-away food.
4. I know how to get someone out of jail.
5. I know how to fight and defend myself physically.
6. I know how to get a gun, even if I have a police record.
7. I know how to keep my clothes from being stolen at the Laundromat.
8. I know what problems to look for in a used car.
9. I know how to live without a checking account.
10. I know how to live without electricity and a phone.
11. I know how to use a knife as scissors.
12. I can entertain a group of friends with my personality and my stories.
13. I know what to do when I don’t have money to pay the bills.
14. I know how to move in half a day.
15. I know how to get and use food stamps or an electronic card for benefits.
16. I know where the free medical clinics are.
17. I am very good at trading and bartering
18. I can get by without a car.

Could you survive in wealth?
Count the number of items you know how to do:
1. I can read a menu in French, English and another language.
2. I have several favorite restaurants in different countries of the world.
3. During the holidays, I know how to hire a decorator to identify the appropriate themes and items with which to decorate the house.
4. I know who my preferred financial advisor, legal service, designer, domestic-employment service, and hairdresser are.
5. I have at lest two residences that are staffed and maintained.
6. I know how to ensure confidentiality and loyalty from my domestic staff.
7. I have at least two or three “screens” that keep people whom I do to wish to see away from me.
8. I fly in my own plane or the company plane.
9. I know how to enroll my children in the preferred private schools
10. I know how to host the parties that “key” people attend.
11. I am on the boards of at least two charities.
12. I know the hidden rules of the Junior League.
13. I support or buy the work of a particular artist.
14. I know how to read a corporate financial statement and analyze my own financial statements.

When I took this test I scored all correct on middle class and could do 6 or 7 things in poverty. I attribute that to my post depression upbringing. I could only do one thing in wealth and that was because I lived on the Mexico border and used to dine over there. How did you score?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Puzzle Share

Click to Mix and Solve

It's been a while since I last shared a puzzle with you. This one was so nice and the colors shimmered with the sunlight shining through the glass bottles that I couldn't resist. It looks like stained glass doesn't it? That's a fascinating art form and you'd be surprised at how easy it is to do. If you are a methodical, step by step sort of person you can learn to make things in stained glass. Start up costs are a bit high, around $300, but the joy of making a beautiful stained glass keepsake box for about a third of the price of one in a store more than makes up for that. Hope you enjoy the puzzle.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

JSD commented on my last post and gave me a great web site to visit. It's, the new website of our President-elect! I was impressed with the site. On you can watch the entire acceptance speech, learn more about Obama & Biden's plans for the future of our country, keep up with the latest developments as he builds his administration, communicate by telling your story or vision, and even apply for a job.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Follow Up.

Last night I watched the returns on the computer. BBC had a streaming broadcast and I sat through the whole thing watching as each set of states reported in. I felt blessed to live in a country where I could do that without having a TV or service to provide good viewing.

When the time came I watched McCain's concession speech. In it he proved himself a generous man and a good loser. I really liked it when he promised to work with Obama and Biden to help the country. I also liked the way he refused to let the crowd of disappointed supporters get angry and and ugly during his speech. That too is a sign of a sensible man with his heart in the right place, all campaign strategies aside. Then, because I was exhausted, I went to bed.

This morning, when I got up, I located a full version of Obama's acceptance speech. I sat there watching our President Elect talk about everybody under the sun. He didn't leave out a single soul in his acknowledgement of victory. He made everyone in the whole world a part of it. And he recognized each person's concerns as he talked about how we as a country, and a world, need to build things. When he started walking through the United States history and all our great events I started crying. When he started tying each generation and every person on the planet to our future I cried even harder. He tied all the hands in our country together and talked about the labor of building our future brick by brick. He didn't build us a pipe dream as he acknowledged the missteps and false starts that might happen and the fact that it would take more than a term to fix even the most crucial of our present problems.

What he sounded like to me was a "man of the people" and I hope that holds true. I'd like to see the resumption of fireside talks as we work to make things better for this country and the rest of the world. I also hope he will find ways to make himself more accessible to the American people. When the White House web page was first built it had a place where you could email the president and all the rest of his staff. Right now the only person you can email directly seems to be the vice president, although there is an interactive page where you can talk to the white house staff and that didn't include everybody. I guess if I want to say anything to Mr. Obama before he takes office I'll probably need to contact his campaign website.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day!

It had been my plan to vote early. That didn't happen because I'm the kind of person who wants all their ducks in order before going to the polls. So when I finally found a version of the ballot that included everything I needed to know it was the last day of early voting and I missed my chance at that making preparations to help a friend, who'd just had back surgery, by answering the door and handing out candy for her thus minimizing her need to get up and down.

So this morning I pulled up Google to locate my polling place. The main system that you could use to find out where to go by your registration info kept giving me an error message. So I had to search for the entire list of places and then find my precinct on it. That was good, because then I had an address and could get a map of how to get there. I'm directionally challenged and get lost at the drop of a hat, or the turn of a corner.

One kind of neat thing I found while locating the list of polling places was an interactive tutorial of how to use the electronic voting machines. So I tried it out. It was simple enough that anyone should have been able to do it, but having done that tutorial walk through before heading out made the actual voting at the polls much more user friendly. So that's a good thing.

There was a prediction of a record turnout and long lines at the polls, so I had water, reading material, and my list of choices before I headed out. Then on the way to the polls I got lost. I overshot the street I was to turn on by at least a mile before I realized it wasn't where I had thought it was going to be and turned around to head back and find it. Once I found it, I was kind of surprised at the lightness of the traffic. I turned into the school parking lot and didn't see tons of ads which had been prevalent at the early voting places, which in my case was the public library. There was also plenty of parking. I showed my card, went up a ramp and showed my card again at the check in tables. I was handed a colored Popsicle stick with my precinct number on it for the fellow who set up the booth for you. My polling location was covering 4 precincts. They had about 5 or 6 machines. No curtained alcoves as in olden days. And no stickers for your driver's license...that was only for early voters.

When it was my turn, and the wait was less than 5 minutes, I approached the machine, turned the page of my list to match what I saw and went through the whole ballot (11 pages) one item at a time. There was only one thing on the ballot that wasn't on my paper example and that was a county vote on whether to change term limits on our councilmen and mayors or to leave them to two 2 year terms. I wasn't really happy with either choice and didn't feel they had put a middle of the road choice in there but I did the best I could with that one. Then I reviewed my ballot, hit the flashing red vote button, and voila! I'd voted.

Voting seemed much more relaxed this time around. One of the ladies manning a table outside said she had volunteered for that location because her kids went to that school. I told her that was great because she could not only see her kids but she was setting them an outstanding example. Then I came home. On the way home I got a call on my cell phone which was from "Kids First" and they were offering 2 free DVD movies for me to watch and review. I think it is the family entertainment folk who are no doubt out in force today. I don't have kids but they said they'd send me two free movies anyways. Yay!

When I got home I called a friend to see if they would be watching the election results on TV tonight because I had thought I'd enjoy watching them with someone, but they weren't interested. So I'm going to find a channel online and keep track that way with frequent refreshes if necessary. I don't expect my vote to make a huge difference. I'm just one person in a country of millions. But I know that if I don't express my choice by voting I'll have lost the opportunity to add my voice to the millions of others who also voted and together we can make a difference.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Strawberry Bavarian

Dinners for 6 to 8 is a fellowship method that my church is using to good success. You sign up for the program and are assigned to a group of folk numbering from 6 to 8 people. Your group then meets and plans 3 or 4 dinners to be held once a month at your homes. If you are single and live in a tiny place, as I do, you can co-host with someone.

We are in our 3rd season of this, I've signed up each time, and always had a good time. Usually when it is my turn to help provide the food I bring a fresh baked loaf of bread. That's minimal effort on my part because I have a great bread machine. This time I'm in a group where I know 3 of the folk in it already. Two of those are our rector, Robert, and his wife, Julie. The other person I know is Abbie who was my sponsor for my Cursillo and a really great person. Abbie and I were supposed to be co-hosting the first dinner this Sunday evening. That's not going to happen because right now she is in the hospital with an infection and blood pressure problems. We are all concerned and praying for her.

My contribution was going to be my usual loaf of bread and Abbie asked me to bring a dessert also. I thought I'd make Strawberry Bavarian. Mom tells me it is a spring dessert and I should do something more appropriate to the season, but I like this one for its lightness and I can make it low fat and almost sugar free. Who wants a heavy dessert after a full meal? Abbie is going to make ratatouille.

Mom was the one who taught me how to make this dessert. She used to serve it frequently, probably because I liked it so much. It was one of three of her desserts which were my all time favorites. The other two were Apple Brown Betty and Baked Bananas. If you've ever had these dishes you can probably tell that Mom is a pretty good cook. When I grew up and started feeding people as an adult this was one of my favorite dessert offerings. It was so simple that it usually turned out perfect and everyone seemed to like it.

The version of Strawberry Bavarian I learned had six ingredients:
1 pint of strawberries washed, hulled, and sliced,
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin,
1 cup of sugar,
1 tablespoon of lemon juice,
1 cup of whipping cream,
both cold and boiling water for the gelatin.

Pick the bowl you want to serve this in, or you can mold it if you wish. Wash, hull, and slice the strawberries and sprinkle sugar over them. Let them stand for 30 minutes to absorb the sugar. Prepare the gelatin according to the package directions, add in the lemon juice (this was optional according to Joy of Cooking) and pour it over the strawberries. Put this in the refrigerator to let it start to congeal. Whip the whipping cream to the point where it will hold peaks. When the gelatin is thickened but not set, fold the cream lightly into the strawberry gelatin mixture. Put it all back into the refrigerator to finish congealing. If you have some left over strawberry slices you can put those on top to decorate the dish. When set it is ready to serve. The cookbook said this makes 8 servings. I don't know how accurate that is as I always liked a really huge serving and so did everyone else. I never had any left overs.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Symbolism of a Heart in Action

Every second Sunday my church holds a special service so that things are kept interesting and the congregation can participate more fully. Often the sermon is presented by a member of the body with music, images, and stories from their life's lessons. Last Sunday my church held an "Instructed Eucharist." Obviously this is one in which the congregation is instructed on something. In this case it was the Eucharist itself and what all different parts of it mean and how they work together. It was an exquisite service, full of symbolism and love for the meaning behind and in the things we use during it and what our actions represent. Even better it enabled the congregation to participate more closely in the Eucharist as we were gathered around the Lord's table during the meal's preparation.

The writer of this excellent teaching was our new Assistant Rector, Matt Wise. Last summer, he was our "summer seminarian" and the young man who gave me guitar lessons. He recently graduated from seminary and is now doing his internship as a deacon until he is officially ordained as a priest on December 13th. Matt has a real love of liturgy and is responsible for many of the changes that are occurring in ours. I think his heart thinks in visuals of what something means and how it can play out.

I walked in late, just after the service started, and sat down in my early service front pew. Matt was sitting right in front of me on a tall stool with his notes on a podium. That was kind of cool. I've always liked sitting at the front of the class near the teacher. I hadn't missed much because the words that caught my attention were at almost the very beginning of the running commentary that continued throughout the entire service. They were:

In some ways, our liturgy is a drama enacted each time we gather with the hopes of drawing us all closer to one another as we together encounter the presence of the risen Christ among us. To help us experience this co-union or communion, we use many symbols. Symbols are signs that participate in the reality that they represent. A symbol works on us at a visceral level and the symbols we use in the Eucharist follow a pattern and form a ritual. Rituals help us experience and express things that cannot be easily verbalized.

After that my attention was pretty much locked to the explanations, my curiosity peaked. Fascinated I followed through the entire service every word that was spoken by either Matt or our Rector, Robert. I'd like to share this sermon with you so I invite you to go here and read the entire service teaching. It has a lot of good things in it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Addition to the Playlist

All the singing and music doings at church seems to have put me in a perpetual music mode. This morning I found Ella and Louis singing Summertime. This version has the horns up front at the beginning, then Ella, then Louis. For all that Ella seems to be the lead singer here, Louis was far busier during this rendition. He plays the horn for the intro, sings his part, goes back to the horns, and then throws in some scat.

There were 3 different files to choose from and all of them were of this version. The first one had the horns way high on the squeal scale and I thought that sounded very realistic based on the times I've heard horns live. The second version was deeper in tone, richer but without the squeal. It just didn't quite feel like a live performance. The last one had that rich acoustic space feel to it. The horns were better than number two but it seems to have been recorded in surround because I'd have sworn I could hear the echo off the high auditorium ceiling. If you've got a play list on your blog go to the search page and type in Ella Fitzgerald and Summertime. Tell me what you think? I chose the last one for its richness but the first one's horns still are sitting in my memory.

While I'm at it I guess it might be nice to tell you that a while back I also added in Jabberwocky and Catch the Wind by Donovan, and Highwayman and Poncho & Lefty which showcase several country artists including Willie Nelson. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Busy Doings at Church

Thursday of this week my verger training materials arrived. These consisted of a nice notebook with eight sections and a booklet depicting verger robes and virges. I'll probably have to get a robe at some point or the church will order one for me. The Verger Guild of the Episcopal Church (VGEC) provides you with a virge when you pass the test and are officially ready to be a verger. A virge is a staff with a finial on it. According to history it was sometimes used for battle but that was the business end of it. The pomp & circumstance end has a decorative and symbolic ornamentation that leads the way for the procession of the church on some of the more formal occasions. One uses it ceremonially to symbolically "clear the way." Are you wondering if you've ever seen a verger in action? Well, if you watched President Ford's funeral you saw one leading preachers and speakers to the podium.

While my church formally uses our verger in the processions at Easter and Advent he is usually active in the background at every service. I suspect that there are some churches where the verger takes part in every procession. I'm not sure but I think it might have to do with how "high church" your services are. Ours aren't that high, but they are getting more so. We just added in torch bearers to the entrance procession. The first two were very young and SO excited to be involved in a responsible activity. They did just beautifully despite their near wavering with excitement.

Anyway, back to the training materials. The moment I opened them I fired off a letter to Ted, our verger, and Robert, our rector, to let them know they'd arrived and asking when the first training session would be held. Then I sat down and read through the first 3 sections. Flipping through it in preparation for writing this post, I noticed there were some questions at certain points which no doubt require an answer. Between now and the first training I'll probably google for the answers, or go over and sit in the church library for a bit.

There is a reading list for training which we can read or read only sections. Robert and Ted had gotten together and have purchased a copy of the ones Ted said were the most used/useful. Robert emailed us all later that evening and those books are now in the church library. We'll have to take turns with them. Did I tell you that we are training four vergers? That seems a huge leap from one. Robert says there are all kinds of uses they envision for us. I hope so. I can already think of at least one service I want to be actively involved in next year.

As if that wasn't busy making enough, the choir, which I joined recently, is gearing up for several big services. There's our Lessons & Carols, All Saint's Day, the Ordination of our associate pastor, our 40th Anniversary celebration, and Advent. We've added in quite a few songs to our music notebooks recently including the glorious River Song from "O' Brother, Where Art Thou?" This past Wednesday we added in some numbers sung to us earlier this year by SAVAE at the concert they gave in our sanctuary. Those two songs are not in my native tongue so I'm really glad Cindy, our choir director, is starting us on them early. Now if only I had the lyrics printed out so that I could sing along with the songs on the CD I have of them. I couldn't find clips of the ones we are singing, but have a listen to SAVAE on the YouTube video below. They're singing Asi Andando.

We're also starting to hold planning meetings for our 40th Anniversary to be celebrated the week following Matt's ordination. December is going to be a busy month! The conundrum for me is the first planning meeting is being held during choir practice. I want to attend both and sadly am not endowed with the self replicating talents of Triplicate Girl. So I need to decide which is more important, practice with the choir and get socialization at the same time, or attend the meeting and be in on the planning from the start.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dropping Gas Prices

I just finished reading a news article on Reuters about how gas prices have taken a huge, record breaking, drop this past week. Good as this news is, it was interesting to note that average prices across most of the country still seems to be above $3/gal. See the excerpt below. For the whole article go here.

"In the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) weekly survey, gasoline was the most expensive on the West Coast $3.42 a gallon, down 15 cents. San Francisco had the highest city price at $3.60, down 12 cents.

The Gulf Coast had the lowest regional price at $2.99 a gallon, down 45 cents. Cleveland had the lowest city pump price, down 38 cents at $2.90.

The EIA also reported gasoline prices were down 29 cents at $3.46 in Chicago; down 12 cents at $3.44 in Los Angeles; down 30 cents at $3.38 in Miami; down 18 cents at $3.36 in Seattle; down 24 cents at $3.22 in Denver; down 24 cents at $3.16 in New York City; down 27 cents at $3.06 in Boston; and down 32 cents at $3.03 in Houston."

Some of those gas prices seem really high because unleaded at the Citgo across the corner from me is $2.71 a gallon. I'm guessing that the prices they took their averages from included those "we're on the corner of a highway and can charge an arm and a leg" prices of strategically located service stations. These averages were based on regular unleaded prices, not plus or premium, which are much higher. That reminds me of something my ex told me when we were engaged (he managed a gas station/store), "The difference between unleaded and premium is about $0.04/gal. to the retailer." When he told me this it was in '91 and gas prices were much lower. There was about a $0.20 difference for the customer at that time. Now, of course, it is higher and so is the difference.

My granddad owned and ran a Texaco service station for many years. It wasn't fancy, but the building was solidly built. And the pumps let you know how much you were spending with a nice ding every time the meter turned over another dollar. Back then you got about 3 gallons for a dollar. That the meters reminded you how much you were spending says something about the mindset of the country. People were careful with their money. I'm delighted to see gas prices dropping. I still wish we could go back to the days when the attitude was that folk were respected for their desire to economize, make their dollar go as far as it would, and retailers seemed more inclined to support this.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Switchover Maze

Times are hard right now and everyone I know is trying to cut back on expenses, including myself. Having both a land line and a cell phone seemed to be an area I could make some economies in so I decided to switch from Verizon, a most excellent company, to AT&T/Cingular who has a better savings in their roll over minutes. AT&T was so glad to get my business that they gave me a $25 credit, but the switchover didn't go as smoothly as it could have.

Before setting plans into action I had checked on the company's reputation. Comsumer's Report doesn't like AT&T very much. JS, on the other hand, did. She said she'd had no problems with them. So I talked to the Customer Service representative and was made a really nice offer which would make the switch over almost cost free. We're talking like less than a dollar. Woo hoo! And I'd have a camera and music phone to boot. So I placed the order. This was at the beginning of September.

The phone, a lovely plum LG CU515, was shipped to me on the 3rd of that month via UPS. UPS didn't deliver it. I waited and waited. I called the apartment office and had them search their package closet. No luck. The office closed at 5:30 but so did work. I didn't want to leave work early to stop by the office. I trusted the package would arrive. Maybe it was on back order. Nope! Eventually at the end of September I got a call from AT&T saying that my contract was about to be canceled for lack of activation, so I took time off from work and went to the apartment office. They still didn't have it but checked UPS for me and found that the package had been sent to Dallas instead. I called UPS. They looked on their records and had returned the package to sender because, "There was no apartment number on the label." Ouch! I'm pretty sure AT&T had my apartment number. It has been on my bill from them for the land line for several years now.

AT&T got my next call. They apologized, made lots of concessions, and set up a new delivery. It took a really long time to get that new delivery set up and I spent 45 minutes on the phone with them, middle of the day, anytime minutes. This was a really long lunch so when I got back to work I apologized to my boss. AT&T called again during the afternoon but I didn't pick up the call. Instead, I listened to the message and received the call again that evening in the midst of an Altar Guild dinner and meeting. The shipment had been canceled because they couldn't bill it to my account and needed a debit or credit card to charge the phone to. So they had to set it up all over again.

AT&T scheduled a call to me this past Monday to check and see if the phone had arrived. It hadn't. They were going to call back. They had shipped it via FedEx this time and FedEx tried to deliver it on Tuesday. I wasn't there. So they brought it on Wednesday. Last night, Thursday, AT&T called again to check and help me set up my phone by "porting" my number from Verizon to AT&T. The customer service rep left me with an automated phone system and I had no idea what was going on. So when I turned the phone on, as directed, and saw an error message about its smart chip I asked for a live person to talk to. That person helped me by having me reset the chip in place. Then we went together through the automated activation system and it worked. Then she had me place a test call to see if the phone would call out. Mom was glad to hear from me. Then the AT&T rep placed a call to my phone to make sure it worked. Whew!

The upshot of all of this is that I have a new phone but still have things to attend to. I need to see if the AT&T store can help me move my phone directory from the old phone to this one. That's a major headache if they can't because who wants to have to reenter all those numbers by hand? Then and only then will I call and give Verizon the bad news, although with the loss of a number I think the already know.