Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back Yard Adventures

Autumn is hard on the horizon and its aural allure was evident on an arid evening. A symphony of cicada song cascaded across the lawn as the sun set on what had been a restful summer Sunday. The amber light of the fading day offered a reassuring glow as we gently considered the week ahead. The pets joined us on the patio, peacefully reclining and occasionally stirring to indulge in a lazy roll in the grass.
Subtly, a commotion began in the bushes. A corpulent cat, content typically to loll sleepily on the patio, rose to attention. Attentive canine ears perked curiously. A mischievous calico kitten, a moment ago harmlessly napping, suddenly was out of sight. There came a fluttering sound and eight paws cautiously moved in its direction.
The young cat had identified prey. Its older companion seemed supportive. The dog quickly lost interest. The cicada, hopelessly surrounded, tried all the tricks in its arsenal: remaining still, threateningly flapping its wings, using its imposing eyes to appear intimidating. Undaunted, the cats pressed on, toying with the helpless insect for the purpose of their amusement. Interestingly, they chose not to eat it, merely to bat it about between them until they grew bored.
Just as quickly as the adventure began, it came to a nonviolent resolution. The dog gave her feline friends a sideways glance as she lapped water from her bowl. The cats, with some silent communication, came to the conclusion that enough was enough. They moved away in opposite directions, their brief alliance having been entertaining if not productive.
The cicada is alive and well. Who knows for how long? The vagaries and dangers of a bug’s life are not for the timid, but it lives to play another day in the collective song of the southern summer evening.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

No Fat Ladies Were Harmed

Inprobably, for the second Saturday in a row, we found ourselves awash in operatic endeavors. You know "that guy you know"? He's the guy you see around, you're not really friends with, but he's a nice enough guy and maybe if things were slightly tilted you would be friends? Well, one of those guys who I know from work and church and the fitness center put together this elaborate program called "The Golden Legend"* and its premiere was tonight at a local Catholic church. He personally asked me to come and it was obviously quite important to him, so we happily showed up. The crowd was larger than anticipated and sadly there were not enough programs to go around. Among the last to arrive, we didn't get a book, which put us at a distinct disadvantage to those who had one. It seems apparent that the words that were being sung were printed in there, although we were not able to independently verify this.
The acouostics in the church were magnificent. The music was huge and orchestral and the choir was in full throat. I have no idea what they sang, but they sang it well. At halftime (er, intermission), I talked with several fellow attendees, most of whom had programs. They seemed delighted. One man whom I have known since childhood said he was "fully edified." I think he had been reading along.
My conversation with my wife went something like this:
Me: "I don't know a lot about it, but to my ear the chick soloists sound better than the guys."
Her: "Yeah, especially the soprano."
Me" "Carmela's here? Or, is it Meadow?"
Her: "The one who sings high."
Me: "Oh. Yeah, she's good."
How absurdly predictable was that? I'm proud for my buddy, who was thrilled with the turnout and the performance. He and his assembled artists received a protracted standing ovation at the conclusion of the program. As I stealthily slid toward the door, I heard at least one "Bravo" being shouted. So, excellent for him.
Enough culture, already. It's time for kick-off.
*A medieval story of temptation & despair redeemed by love written in epic poetic style by poet laureate Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and and scored in lush romantic style classical music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. The result is The Golden Legend -- perhaps Sullivan's most successful and most performed work of music during his lifetime.

The story revolves around Prince Henry, in despair for finding a cure to his mysterious illness, and Elsie, a young maiden who willingly volunteers to sacrifice her life to save the prince. Their lives -- and their souls -- hang in the balance as Lucifer, in multiple disguises, uses his cunning to ensnare and destroy them on their way to Salerno.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Overnight Excitement

(Austin, TX) - It seemed like a dream at first, an annoying one at that. A bloodless female voice was awakening me from a deep sleep. Distant and dissonant, it was commanding me to leave the building. Then the clanging started. I lay there for a long, disoriented moment assessing my options. Ignore the unwelcome disturbance or pay attention? As I gathered my wits, I saw my wife in motion. She had readily identified what was happening: the hotel fire alarm had been activated.
Interestingly, she had identified the nearest exit when we got into the room. She's just responsible like that. So, in our groggy, REM-interrupted states, we slightly staggered as we made a plan and headed for the stairwell and the safety of the street eleven floors below.
A steady stream of sleepy but compliant hotel guests filed down the stairs in an orderly fashion. It was not quite 5:00 a.m., so what we saw might best be described as an anti-fashion show. Discreetly looking around, it was easy to discern what people's priorities are at a moment like this. It seems your brain screams "must have pants!" and after that, everybody goes off in a different philosophical direction.
My wife and I slipped on some handy casual clothes then grabbed wallets, room keys, iPhones and not much else. Among our fellow evacuees, shorts, tee shirts and flip-flops seemed to be in abundance. Once we reached the street, there wasn't a lot of excitement. There was just one fire truck there to save us from whatever potential peril had dislodged us from our slumber.
Once the "all clear" was issued, my wife and I hung around outside for a while. The cattle call in the elevator lobby was somehow less appealing than the march down the stairs had been. Of course, thirty minutes earlier we had a sense of purpose and urgency. Now, we just needed to try to get back to sleep.
The return to the room was kind of surreal. In a room close to ours, we could hear a man loudly losing the contents of his stomach. Then, as we arrived at our door we saw a hotel security guard dutifully sliding bills under guests' doors. Given his demeanor, it's easy to assume he had not left the building at all. Stay classy, Austin.

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She Made Her Mama (And Everybody Else) Proud

(Austin, TX) - Think of the things that might lure you to Texas: barbecue, football, dude ranches, more football, oil drilling. How about opera? Opera? That's what I'm saying. It turns out our niece has quite a big voice to go with her lovely face. She has been participating in a workshop at Austin Lyric Opera and she showed off in front of a friendly and enthusiastic crowd. (Click here for the video) You know she was nervous, but she had no reason to be. My untrained ear tells me she was spectacular to the point of bringing an old uncle to tears. I told her after the recital that she was among the top three vocalists featured on the evening and she was definitely the prettiest. My eyes are well trained and I know a pretty girl when I see one. I'm also adept at ranking them, so I am confident in my assessment.
She had one solo and was front and center for an encore performed by all the students. She's 17 and many of the performers were a little older. You could discern the experience in a couple of the college students, but take my word for it, our niece hung in there with the best of them. There were parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends there to cheer her on.
Around the adults, she maintains a quiet profile. I keep telling her someday I will get to know the real person behind that well-mannered mask she wears. Who knows when that will be? If she lets her artistry speak for her, then consider me well impressed.
After the recital, my wife and I went our own way in a continuing quest to hit Austin landmark restaurants. This led us to Threadgill's, which has a reputation as a live music hotspot. Sadly, it was quiet during our visit. While the atmosphere is worth experiencing, even without a band, I thought the food itself was rather ordinary. Just when I thought Threadgill's had done nothing to distinguish itself for me, the server stopped by the table to ask if we wanted seconds on anything.
Seconds? I asked, "You mean at no extra charge?" She said, "At no extra charge." Seconds? Now, that's what I'm talking about. I think I would like to shake Mr. Threadgill's hand.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Bosom of the Family

(Austin, TX) - We are visiting the wife's family here in the hill country, which means I am surrounded by women. Thank God for the newborn nephew, the rare repository of Y chromosomes on that side of the aisle. Or, to quote my son, "finally, another dude." It's taken us a while to adjust to the idea that my wife's younger sister has brought a baby into family. After all, we're thinking about grandchildren, not nieces and nephews. There he is, though, in the aching arms of his aging aunt. (I'm gonna pay for that one!)
When my wife held that baby, the world just melted away. All of her worries disappeared and she was just transfixed. (Look here now, I don't want either of the Happy Couples to get any ideas, but I'm just saying when the time comes we'll be ready.)
We eagerly anticipate spending time with our lovely 17-year-old niece, who was entirely too busy on a Friday night to hang around with us when we got here.
Having deposited my mother-in-law securely in her familial accommodations, my beautiful, loving not-at-all-showing her-age-by-any-stretch-of-the-imagination wife and I were free to have dinner Out There in the Texas night. We were directed by those in the know to an Austin landmark, Shady Grove. We dined outdoors with a warm breeze, an adult beverage or two and a laid-back crowd that spanned several generations. The food was fantastic and the atmosphere was terrific. I recommend it highly.
I look forward to another 24 hours in the company of the in-law women. I think I'll hang around with the baby.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Back Room, Alley, Trusty Woods

Our quest for interesting and unsual senior portraits for our daughter has led us on a two-day, rainy, far-flung photographic adventure. We enlisted the time and talents of the lovely and energetic Kristin Mosura for the project. The first day we trudged out there, some kind of monsoon blew through. We were successful in getting group shots of our daughter and her faithful friends, but the planned solo session was washed away. So, we waited about three weeks until Kristin cold squeeze us into her schedule again.
I really enjoyed watching the woman work. She made me tired but inspired as she sacrificed her body going for the shot she wants. She may or may not have endangered our daughter's health a couple of times along the way. But, hey, if the portraits are as good as we hope, it's all worth it.
Kristin has a handful of favorite settings for this kind of thing, depending upon the kind of tone the subject of the portraits hopes to set. Our daughter decided she's "more rustic than urban," so we went to a couple of plots of land that are quirky and/ or picturesque, neither of which our enterprising photographer had used before.

She seemed thrilled to be able to shake things up. We will be happy because our daughter's photos will be unlike anyone else's in many ways.
Along the way, there were many potential injuries as the photographer had our daughter balance on precarious perches or wade into waist-high weeds.

There were encounters with bugs and birds, as well as at least one elderly man armed with a shotgun. But, hey, that's another conversation altogether.
Our daughter was excited. Kristin was excited. I think we will all be excited when we see the finished product.

I think this may cost us a small fortune.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Nest Was Full for a Moment

There was a rare convergence of personnel at the family compound. Both Happy Couples were in the house at the same time. I would like to say it was a celebration of "Daddy's home," but it was just a fortunate coincidence.
We don't see much of the older pair these days. They're both working and preparing for the start of a new college semester. They seemed quite relaxed, just hanging around for a couple of hours. She has a stylin' new ride, complete with new-car smell, so she was showing it off a bit. Our son is working two jobs: A downtown office gig with covered parking during the day and pizza delivery a couple of nights a week. Something will have to give when school fires up. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. We're proud of him as he exhibits the family work ethic. Let's hope he puts as much effort into his academics.
While were were catching up with them, Happy Couple II rolled in, all aglow from a long weekend trip to a south Texas water park. We enjoyed hearing their road stories. Memorable things happen when several families get together as was the case with this adventure. They had us in stitches, especially with the story of somebody's little brother getting car sick after overeating at IHOP.
Their relationship dynamic will change significantly soon, because he's off to college in September. He will be just an hour away, so they should be okay.
After an hour or so of amiable chatter, POOF! Everybody was gone. They're getting on with their busy lives while Ma and Pa keep the lights on for 'em.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

What Is That Thing?

While we were strolling along Michigan Avenue, I paused to take an interesting self portrait. See if you can spot me.
If you know my travel habits, it's easy. I have a tradition which borders on superstition. On the first day of a trip, I wear the same green and blue striped Polo shirt. They family calls it my "travel shirt," and it can be spotted in photos from across the country and across the years. This is the second of its kind. The first one is filled with holes, but it has a place of honor on a shelf in my closet. The shirt is rarely worn in a non-travel context and my people are slightly unsettled if I leave home without wearing it.
Anyhow, my photos from Millenium Park have prompted more than one Daddy D reader to ask "what is that thing?" Let the mystery be solved: It's the Cloud Gate, and for obvious reasons it attracts crowds to its reflected clouds. It was designed by British artist Anish Kapoor. Here's the info from the Milleneum Park webpage:

The 110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect the city's famous skyline and the clouds above. A 12-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see their image reflected back from a variety of perspectives.

Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture is among the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 66-feet long by 33-feet high. Cloud Gate sits upon the At&T Plaza, which was made possible by a gift from AT&T.

My observation that people in Chicago won't make eye contact with strangers in combination with my Cloud Gate encounter has had me singing the old Heart song "Dreamboat Annie." Here are the salient lyrics:

Going down the city sidewalk alone in the crowd
No one knows the lonely one whose head's in the clouds

Sad faces painted over with those magazine smiles
Heading out to somewhere won't be back for a while...

Sometimes, life is a song.

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Mostly Uneventul Travels

We made it from our hotel to the gate at O'Hare's American Airlines terminal in what must be record time: 38 minutes. That's good news, even though we wound up having to sit around for a lot longer than expected. Everything had been going smoothly. Flights were on time, trains were right on schedule and the (seemingly dozens of) taxi drivers we hired along the way seemed to be taking efficient routes between our destinations. Then, we got on the plane in Chicago. We had been sitting there for about 25 minutes when the pilot announced that the mechanics had given the ol' girl a once-over and she was unfit to fly. So, we got off the plane.
Now this was frustrating, to be sure. The Captain seemed grateful for my response when he spoke to me, seemingly in a random fashion, saying "Sorry for the delay, but it's better to be safe." I said, "Sir, I couldn't agree with you more."
Happily, we were in a major airport and there happened to be a spare MD-80 sitting in a hangar. We were delayed about two hours, but it's not the end of the world.
Here's the thing: the American Airlines personnel at O'Hare said they could not check us through on our new connections, that we had to wait until we got to Dallas. We did not believe them, so we called American Airlines on the telephone. Guess what? The guy on the phone checked us through! We are convinced the people on the ground in Chicago were straight-up lying because they just didn't want to fool with it. What other explanation could there be?
When it was all finished, we got home slightly more than an hour later than we had planned, so it wasn't a big deal, at all.
The good people of Chicagoland were nice enough, I suppose. I can't say they were unfriendly. I can say they were for the most part non-friendly. It's like eye contact is some kind of social transgression. It was the biggest collection of isolationist introverts I could possibly imagine. When we, as southerners, tried to engage them in witty folksy banter, they would get kind of wide-eyed. I swear, if small children had been around, those people might have huddled protectively around them. Mostly, they seemed to walk around like robots, staring straight ahead surrounded by some kind of no-speak zone with a mantra something like "don't look at me, don't speak to me, I am safe here on my own little emotional island." When I broke away from my traveling party, I very much felt alone in a crowd.
And, oh by the way...there seems to be some kind of constitutional prohibition on Coca-Cola products there. I've never seen so much Pepsi. Maybe that's what wrong with those people.
It was a great trip, but I'm glad to be home where people engage in conversations and the Diet Coke flows freely.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Equipped to Lead?

(Barrington, IL)-Our traveling party to Chicago is a gang of four: a Homeland Security guy, an accountant, a lawyer and me. We have learned never to be shocked to run into someone from home no matter where you go, so it came as no surprise whatsoever to learn that a prominent local minister was making the trip concurrently. So, here we are, the Shreveport Five, energized by inspiring leaders from across the globe.There actually were people from all over the world assembled here, and thousands more were in venues across the country, participating in the proceedings in real time by satellite (in High Definition, no less!) During breaks, I would wander around the vast Willow Creek facility and (okay, I'll confess) eavesdrop on random conversations. A surprsing number of people seemed to feel the event organizers were too heavy-handed with the spirituality at the expense of practicality. I'm not sure what they expected, considering they signed up to come to one of the largest and most dynamic community churches in the country. I'm taking away plenty of inspiration to apply in a professional setting, so I say there's nothing to complain about.
There was only one moment that was over the top for my individual sensibilities. The evangelicals among us were moved by a song to the point of hand-raising. If it fed them, then God bless 'em, you know?
David Gergen, an advisor to four U.S. presidents, appeared in person. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair contributed on video, as did legendary humanitarian and rock star Bono. The presenter who blew me away, though, was Jessica Jackley Flannery, founder of Kiva, an inspiring microlending company which allows enterpeneurs in underdeveloped areas to start or expand businesses.
There were many other whip-smart, highly successful people over a full two days of summit activity.
This trip was an opportunity for growth in more ways than one. I was definitely out of my comfort zone. Clearly, I've gotten to know my four companions much better over the last three days. I particularly enjoyed the company of Prominent Local Minister, who was closer to my age than the others. We took him out to dinner in Chicago and tried, thankfully without success, to corrupt him just a little. I think he enjoyed watching us mildly misbehave.
Now, the rubber meets the road. Can we apply what we've learned in real life? The one thing I can pledge to actually do is participate in Jessica Jackley's enterprise. I'm going to get started on that right away.

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Six Flags Over Jesus

(Barrington, IL)- Talk about your "country come to town!" We live in the land of mega churches, but Willow Creek Community Church takes it to a new level.This is not a concert hall or a sports arena. This is the worship space at Willow Creek.
The church is hosting a leadership summit and this was my first-day view. The emphasis is on organizational dynamics and employee relations, and it's all bathed in a bright Christian light.
It's been high-energy. There's plenty to take away from the presentations from church and business leaders. Day Two is shaping up to be inspirational and informative.
There is a "worlds collide" dynamic in this part of Chicagoland. The Arlington Million, one of the most prestigious horse races outside of the Triple Crown, is being run tomorrow. Our hotel is filled with dignitaries from the Sport of Kings. Being from a horse racing market, I am significantly tempted to head toward Arlington Park just to see it. I've stood outside of it already, just kind of staring.
Is that the Devil on my shoulder?

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Second City Sights and Sounds

(Chicago)- Off to Illinois for a conference, I was sternly instructed by a friend who lived here for a time that I must prioritize the consumption of pizza, Chicago style. Where better to do that? It's true, some things just speak for themselves. So, a couple of hours after landing at O'Hare, I put my priorities in the proper order and got it done.Having only the big chains and one Louisiana-based pizzaria to compare it to, I'm no expert of the quality of this particular kind of pie, but it was good. I hope I chose wisely. I wouldn't want to face harsh criticism for not sampling something truly representative.
Several hours were spent walking around downtown, including Michigan Avenue and the lakefront. Hoping not to look like some kind of bumpkin, I kept telling myself not to look up at the tall buildings, but I couldn't help myself. You have to take in the sights. There's no avoiding the white-hot spotlight that brands the traveling companions and me as visitors. Wandering around aimlessly with maps and train schedules, we call attention to ourselves anytime we speak in our Louisiana accents. So, I've tried to use this to our advantage. On several occasions, I have successfully disarmed locals by ratcheting up the drawl just a little and saying "We're from the country. We don't get out much." After hearing that, people typically are very helpful.
What would a trip to the big city be without baseball? As luck would have it, the Cubs are on the road, so we were off to the other part of town and the much-maligned U.S. Celluar Field. The Angels are in town to play the White Sox. The weather was spectacular and the game was exciting. Jim Thome hit two home runs to thrill the Southside crowd. The ballpark seemed nice to me. The evening offered everything you would expect, including hot dogs and beer, so I left happy. Back to those accents: It seems like I fell asleep and woke up in a Saturday Night Live skit or something. You think we talk funny, you ought to hear these people! At the game, the easily distinguishable Chicago brand of American English was on abundant display around us. To my southern ear, it was funny to hear. I wonder how long, if I lived here, it would take for me to talk funny too?
So far, the experience has been positive. The people are pleasant in a subtle, passive sort of way. The big news, though, is that in my quest to visit as many big league ballparks as possible before I die, I added another one to my list, even if it is the "other" stadium in town.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Texas Tour

We wrapped up our tour of Texas with a shopping spree in an upscale Dallas mall. One could argue that the ladies deserved it after a weekend of indulging me by hanging around with my friends on the lake. Don't let them fool you, though. They had a good time out there.
While that was all fun and relaxation, the second portion of our trip was quite a stress inducer, at least for me. Our daughter visited another college campus, this time Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth. The folks there did a fine job of selling TCU and I fully expect she will submit an application. I can see several advantages to considering the school, including the fact that it's a four-hour drive from home. It's expensive, though. I need to do a little more research on TCU before I can fully embrace the idea.
She is attracted to the school because she knows several people in Ft. Worth. In fact, she spent the evening with some of them. This means my wife and I had a chance to spend some alone time. In Texas, I figure you should go for barbecue or Mexican food. It was strongly suggested that we visit Joe T. Garcia's downtown, so we did. We liked it. It has a certain flair and charm. We knew things would be okay when the parking lot was packed at 8:30 on a Sunday.
There are no menus there. The waiter just tells you what your options are and you go for it. Decision making is easy, that's for sure.. We left full and happy, so we can't complain.The pressure to make the right decision about a school and the idea that my baby will be leaving home in about a year just freak me out.
The good news, I guess, is if she winds up at TCU we can eat at Garcia's often.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Fun in the Sun

(Lake Travis, TX) - We are deep in the heart of Texas and my wife is in the spirit! The hat looks great!
We are in the company of my oldest friends, who treat us like family. I can never adequately express how much I appreciate these wonderful people.
We found water in the drought-ravaged Lake Travis and everyone seems to be having a relaxed, sun-splashed weekend.
My daughter, separated from the boyfriend by his family's trip to South Carolina, is contentedly along. We had big fun racing on Waverunners. It gave her an opportunity to tease me about being old. She's remarkable in that she seems comfortable in the company of any generation. There are people her age here and she's mixing well. The same can be said, though, about the time she's spending with the adults.
This weekend isn't all about bouncing around on the water.
Tomorrow, we will drive north for an official visit to a nearby university. We're starting to get serious about finding a college home for our daughter. Her senior year of high school starts in less than three weeks, so we're planning to let her squeeze every ounce she can out of a carefree summer.

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