Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fanny Crosby

Francis Jane Crosby was born in New York in 1820.  She was 16 years old when she saw the fall of the Alamo and Texas' rise to independence.  Then, she saw that terrible period in American history known as the Civil War.  Then, she saw the rise of America as a world power.  And all of those wonderful inventions she saw---the automobile, the radio, the light bulb, the airplane.

But, oh...sadly, Francis Jane Crosby, better known to her adoring admirers as "Fanny", didn't really see any of that.  She was blinded by a quack physician when she was just a toddler.

In later years, she would often remark that she was glad God had chosen to make her blind, because it helped her develop that talent that defined her.  She began to show that talent at an early age, when, as a young schoolgirl, she wrote:

I loathe, abhor, it makes me sick,
To hear the word, arithmetic!

Fanny Crosby went on to become the most prolific of Christan hymn writers, penning over 8,000 Christian songs.  Her most famous, of course, is "Blessed Assurance".  Indeed, on her tombstone in Bridgeport, Connecticut are inscribed these words:

Blessed Assurance---Jesus is Mine!

Fanny Crosby died in 1915 at the age of 95.  During her lifetime, she became one of the most famous Americans.  She counted presidents of the U. S. and foreign leaders as her personal friends.

One of my favorite of her hymns is "Near the Cross".  I hope you like it.

Jesus keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvry's mountain.


In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever.
'Til my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the cross a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me.
There, the bright and morning star
Sheds its beams around me.


Near the cross, oh Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me.
Help me walk from day to day
With its shadows o'er me.


Near the cross I'll watch and wait
Hoping, trusting ever,
'TilI I reach that golden strand
Just beyond the river.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Priceless Pothead

Early Ming Dynasty?  $200,000 at Auction?
When my daughter, Diane, was about 12 years old, she came home from school one day proudly carrying a ceramic creation she had made in a pottery class.  The creation was a human head that was hollowed out for use as a vase or similar function.

Without a doubt, it is the strangest looking thing imaginable.  My initial thought was that she either has an incredible imagination or was under the influence of a hallucinogen.

It turns out that she has an incredible imagination....that, plus the fact that an artist she is not.  Ha.

But, as happens, the "Pothead", as it has been dubbed, has assumed an important and honored place in our home.  It is now a part of our family lore, to be discussed and laughed about whenever we gather together.

Diane and Me, Taken Earlier This Year
To be sure, all of us thought at the time that it was a cute piece of junk, to be thrown away at first chance.  But somehow it ended up in my office, then it was in our den, then it moved with Cindy and me to Texas, where it has been sitting for years on our hearth.

It is a wonderful conversation piece.  When friends come over, they invariably ask about it.  I always tell them it is "early Ming Dynasty".  No one has believed me yet, but maybe some day......

My fantasy is to take it to be appraised on Antique Road Show and have the conversation go something like this:

EXPERT:  Do you have any idea what this piece might be worth?
ME:  No----maybe $1.50?
EXPERT:  Well, I'm glad you're sitting down, Clint, because we think this magnificent piece would fetch at least $200,000 at auction.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cracker Barrel, Next Exit!!!

An American Interstate Tradition
Cindy and I have traveled extensively in the United States since we first met.  On our first trip together by car, I quickly discovered that she had a preference in eateries on the interstate---Cracker Barrel.
Have a rockin' good time on the front porch
Oh, of course we have eaten at establishments as varied as Waffle House and high-end restaurants; but day in and day out, we find that Cracker Barrel rules when it comes to consistently high quality, moderately priced meals that are predictably uniform state to state.  The service is generally fast and friendly.  Specializing in "southern comfort food", the chain operates in 41 states out of 591 locations.

Billing itself as "Cracker Barrel Old General Store", each facility is a combination general store with restaurant.  The store part specializes in knick-knacks, assorted crafts, canned goods and whatnot that mostly appeals to women. 
The country store is a magnet for women
As a guy, I can tell you that while Cindy is moseying all over the store, touching and feeling all their wares, I just want to eat and get away from the spicey smells of the store, which obviously acts as a magnet on the female of the human species.  Whatever.
The hearth and surrounding walls feature memorabilia
Oh---one other not insignificant thing---their restrooms are usually clean and nice---not a small consideration after having been in the saddle for hours.
As you await your order, play this little game
But let's get to the point, shall we?---the food.  They have a menu that is the same in Kentucky as it is in Illinois and Louisiana.  After you've been there a time or three, you know what you want.  Cindy can not only recite the Twenty-Third Psalm, she also knows the Cracker Barrel menu by heart.  In fact, there have been times she has corrected our waitperson on the contents of our order....."You forgot the grits", and "We were supposed to get gravy with the chicken fried chicken."  It's fun to watch.
What a way to start the day---Uncle Herschel's Favorite
We have pretty much decided on our standard breakfast of Uncle Herschel's Favorite for me (two fried eggs, grits ((yes---I like 'em)), buttermilk biscuits, preserves, hashbrown casserole and fried ham or chicken with gravy); and for her, the Sunrise Sampler (two eggs scrambled, grits with sawmill gravy, apple butter, fried apples and hashbrown casserole, and a sampling of bacon, country ham and smoked sausage).
Cindy's Chicken and Dumplings
Yes, my friends, after you've washed that down with two mugs of hot java, you're in no condition to be driving.  However, we hit the road anyway and pray that we can remain conscious until day's end, when we will probably look for another CB near our hotel.
My Chicken Fried Chicken
Dinner at the Barrel consists of chicken and dumplings for her and chicken fried chicken for moi.  Believe me, by the time you've downed the meat and the sides with cornbread, you are ready to crawl into bed. 

Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Furman University

Furman occupies the most scenic campus in the nation
The Front Entrance Beckons
As a high school senior in 1961, I was beginning to feel the pressure of choosing a college.  I was to have the honor of being the first in my family to have to opportunity of a college degree, so I really wanted to make the right choice.  I applied to the University of Georgia, just up the road from where I lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia.  I was quickly accepted, and I rejoiced.  However, I was bothered by the thought of going to such a large institution, away from home in an ocean of undergraduates.
The Historic Bell tower on the Lake
My high school counselor told me about a smaller school in South Carolina that might suit me better.  Furman University had smaller class sizes, excellent instruction and a brand new campus.  I discussed this with my parents, and we decided to travel to Greenville to see the facility first hand. 
The James Buchanan Duke Library
We were all very impressed.  The campus was still under construction, since the school had moved from their older campus in downtown Greenville over the past few years. 
The Chapel
The new campus was beautiful.  We were given a tour of the facilities by the registrar's office, and came away with an enthusiasm for the school.

I applied for admission, but my counselor cautioned me that my high school grades might not quite measure up to be accepted.  I worried about this for a few weeks, but one day in the mail came the good news!---I was going to be a Paladin!
President Bush Speaks
First, however, I had to find out what the heck a Paladin is.  There was a popular western TV show at the time called, "Have Gun, Will Travel".  The star of the show was named "Paladin" (Richard Boone was the actor).  In this series, he was a good guy, always righting wrongs and saving the day.  So I figured that "paladin" must be something very good.  I was right---"Paladin" means "One of the legendary peers of Charlemagne's court, a knightly champion".  Yes!---that sounded good to a 17 year old boy from Georgia.

My first few months at dear old FU were a little difficult as I tried to settle into a life away from home for the first time.  It was as much a learning experience as my classroom instruction.  Looking back on my four year college experience, I can see how Furman helped shape my thinking and view of life.  It was good.
The Paladins Kick Butt on Most Saturdays in the Fall
Today, Furman University occupies 750 acres on its campus outside Greenville, S. C.  Enrollment is approximately 2,550 undergraduate and 550 graduate students.  The university offers majors and programs in 42 subjects.  Founded in 1826, Furman is one of the top liberal arts colleges in the U. S.  More Furman grads have gone on to earn Ph.D. degrees than any other private liberal arts college in the south.
"Christo et Doctrinae"---For Christ and Learning
Furman's seal expresses this slogan:  "Christo et Doctrinae"  (For Christ and Learning).
Four Years of Hard Work Pays Off!

Monday, October 25, 2010

What a Weekend!

Man, it's been a helluva weekend.  It all started on Saturday at noon.  I walked into where Cindy was working at her computer, and saw that she was crying.  Alarmed, I asked what was wrong.

She said she thought her computer had got a virus.  She couldn't use it at all.  A box kept popping up with the message "Security Tool!---Your Computer Has Been Infected!"  The computer would not work at all.  The message advised her to click on the box which said "DISINFECT".   Well, I knew that was the last thing to do.  After playing around with it unsuccessfully for a while, we had to take the computer to the doctor.

We get to the repair shop and I was pretty turned off.  The computer system they were using was as slow as molasses in January---definitely not state-of-the-art.   You would think that a computer repair shop, of all places, would have an up-to-date computer system.  And, with other customers standing in line, the guy taking info on our problem asked for all our personal information---name, address, phone number, password, etc--- in front of them so that they could hear. 

I told Cindy that we should go somewhere else, but she was desperate to get her problem solved right then.  So...we left the computer there and were told we would get a call when it was ready.  By the way---the Security Tool virus is particularly sinister--- it pilfers personal information like bank account numbers.  It is imperative to remove it asap.

Today, we got a call that it was repaired.  There was a different guy working at the shop when we got there, and he was really good.  Answered all our questions and turned a poor experience into a good one.  We got home and within minutes Cindy was back in business.  "You know", she said, "When a computer goes down it's almost like a death in the family."

Then, we went to vote.  We have early voting in Texas, and it is so much better to vote early and avoid the crowd on election day.  The line was short, and we were in and out in 10 minutes.

Then, we went to the new Taj Market that just opened up the street.  It is an Indian specialty shop.  It looks pretty good, but I got bored and finally went back to the car to wait on Cindy.  She bought a few different produce products.

So, we did accomplish a few things.  Word to the wise:  Be sure your firewall and anti-virus protection are enabled!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Remember the Alamo!

Cindy painted this in watercolor.  It hangs in our den.
When we moved to Texas seven years ago, we immediately realized that we needed artwork in our home that reflects living in the Lone Star State.  For my Christmas present six years ago, Cindy presented me with her painting of the Alamo.  Her painting is based on a picture of the old mission taken circa 1920. 
The Alamo as it appears today in San Antonio
To refresh your memories (especially my friends from countries outside the United States), the Alamo was/is an old Spanish mission located in San Antonio, Texas.  In 1835, Texas began a quest for independence from Mexico, which ruled Texas.  The battle for independence became a very bloody affair when General Santa Ana led his army of several thousand men into Texas.

One of the most important battles was the battle at the Alamo, where approximately 180 Texans and their supporters entrenched themselves against the much larger force of the Mexicans.  On March 6, the Mexican army conquered the little mission fortress and killed all of the defenders.
The monument at San Jacinto commemorates Texas' independence.  It rises higher than the Washington monument
This action enraged all of Texas, and on April 21, 1836, against overwhelming odds, the Texas militia, led by Sam Houston, caught up with the Mexican army and annihilated it at San Jacinto, just east of present day Houston, Texas.  That battle led to Texas' independence.

The Alamo has ever since been preserved as a holy shrine.

The above painting hangs in our den.  Cindy says it is done in watercolor using dry brush technique on hard surface watercolor board.  Of course, it is very special to me.  There is one whimsical element to the painting---on the right side, in black robe, stands the spectral figure of a mysterious woman.  That woman is Madam Candelaria, rumored to be the only Texas survivor of the battle.

My wife, Cindy, is an accomplished artist, and painted the above picture of the Alamo in watercolor
 You may view more of Cindy's artwork on her Facebook page---"Cindy Ellison Art".

Friday, October 22, 2010

New Orleans, The Crescent City, The Big Easy

New Orleans!
A number of years ago, Cindy and I fell in love with New Orleans.  We stayed at the Marriott on Canal Street in the French Quarter.  From the lofty view from our room, we had a great panoramic vista of the Mississippi River. 
The First Place We Ever Stayed in New Orleans---The Canal Street Marriott
Since then, we have returned many times, and we have developed a certain routine to our sightseeing.  After staying at several hotels in the Quarter, we decided that the Prince Conti on Conti Street best suits our tastes.  It is located a half block from Bourbon Street, so that the entire Quarter is within easy walking distance.  Literally hundreds of eateries of all descriptions are just steps away.
Our Hotel---The Prince Conti, a Few Yards From Bourbon Street
Typically, we rise early.  We hit the streets before pedestrian or automobile traffic begins in earnest, and head toward Jackson Square, about 15 minutes on foot.  Our destination:  Cafe DuMonde, where we take our chickory-laden coffee with their world famous beignets.  I like the beignets, but Cindy LOVES them.
What a Great Place to Begin!
Beignets and Chickory Coffee
We sit by the street and watch the street performers.  All around us are visitors from other states.  We usually make friends as we sip our morning joe and munch on the crisp, flaky sweetness of the beignets.  As we depart, we make sure our to-go cups are full.
Street Performers are Everywhere
We stroll by Jackson Square as the pedestrian hordes fill the sidewalks.  We observe the ever-present art stands that surround the square.
Jackson Square
We turn toward Royal Street and the waiting art galleries.  We will spend a few hours here, walking the street and observing/discussing the various works we enjoy.
The Royal Street Art District
The lunch hour approaches, and we turn our thoughts to food.  If you like thinking and talking about food, this is the place for you!  We decide to hit our favorite restaurant---the informal, inexpensive and high-quality Remoulades.  Owned by Arnauds, just around the corner, Remoulades occupies a high profile location on Bourbon Street.  As we "people watch", I order the shrimp etouffee and a side of onion rings.  Cindy digs into her shrimp salad.  I see her stealing some of my rings, but that is expected.
Remoulade's---Our Favorite Restaurant
I Cannot Resist Remoulade's Shrimp Etouffee
The early afternoon means it is time for a nap, so we walk about a hundred yards back to our digs at our hotel.
The Mighty Mississippi River curves in a Crescent Around the City
The afternoon calls us to the Mississippi River.  We take the Canal Street route, browsing in the many shops as we stroll.  At the river, we sit on one of the benches and just watch as the "Father of Waters" meanders past.  A Cruise ship docks at the port a quarter mile from us.  Barges ply past us, headed up river toward Baton Rouge.
Bourbon Street Before Sundown
Cindy is a Party Animal

We slowly walk back toward Bourbon Street.  At night, I buy a cigar and slowly work on it as we go from one end of the closed-off thoroughfare to the other, stopping occasionally to observe a performance.  We pass the historic Old Absinthe House, one of Cindy's favorite places.  Following a wonderful dinner at one of the many great eateries in the Quarter, we are back in our room by 10:00.
Interior of Old Absinthe House
Tomorrow we will eat at Commander's Palace in the Garden District, but for now it is beddie-bye, with visions of beignets and shrimp and jazz floating through our contented minds.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Halloween Party!!!!

Me with my snake tattoo and fried/frizzed hair

Frontal shot of me with biker shirt and handcuffs
 Two weeks ago, our neighbors, Sandy & Ray, asked Cindy & me and two other neighborhood couples to attend a Halloween party at their home.  We told them we would be there.  For days, we discussed how we would dress up for the party.  We had a lot of fun just planning on how we would look.

Well, yesterday was the big day.  As you can see in the pictures, I decided to go as a "punk biker" type personna, and Cindy dressed up as a combination Betty Boop/Good Witch/Socialite.  It took Cindy a couple of hours to get my hair totally fried and frizzed and colored black.  She also drew a snake tattoo on my face.  I had on a biker shirt I have had (but never before worn) from a 1997 biker rally in myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Got me some handcuffs hanging from my belt, made me a phony marijuana ciggy, and I was ready to go.
Cindy in Wig with Spider

Cindy decked out in about two pounds of makeup, a ridiculous wig, black sexy dress, boa on her neck, and a crown that featured a veil and spiders.  (EEEEK!)
Sandy, Our Beautiful Neighbor
Suzan & Diane, Our Neighbors and Friends

Ray and Sandy were dressed for the occasion, as were Wayne and Suzan.  Wayne was the hit of the party with his "rat cap", which featured a dead Norwegian rat inside his cap, with its tail sticking out about eight inches in front of his face.
Wayne Blew Us Away With His "Rat Cap"

We were joined by Mike and Diane.  The eight of us had a blast, with good conversation and food.  The men even had a croquet game in the back yard.  Ray won the game, but there is widespread belief that he perhaps bent the rules a little.  Ha.
Ray Won the Croquet Game, but Did He Bend the Rules?  Ha.

Sandy decorated her home very creatively.  It was beautiful, with all manner of snakes, spiders, body parts and witches everywhere. 
Sandy Knows How to Decorate
Sandy's Mantle Above the Fireplace

And the food?  Oh, my gosh.  Delicious pulled pork, homemade baked beans with bacon, the best damn 5-cheese macaroni & cheese with jalapeno & grilled corn I have ever put in my mouth, and all manner of desserts.  The woman worked pretty hard to make this happen, and we had the best time ever. 
Put Some Heaven in Your Mouth
Suzan's Butter Cream Frosted Chocolate Cupcakes with Bones and Body Parts.  Yummm.
Picture of Cindy's Plate---Pork Sandwich, Baked Beans, Mac & Cheese to Die For
Making a scene at the end of the evening were Ray & Sandy's family pets, the very sweet Tyson & Abby.
Sandy Holding Tyson & Abby

We came home very full and thankful to have such wonderful friends.  Thank you, Ray and Sandy, for a beautiful and unforgettable evening!


NOTE:  Cindy relates her version of events at the party on her blog