2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Just Cruising the Caribbean

Last week my wife, Jo Ann, and I had the opportunity to cruise the Caribbean for a week. It was awesome. It was a chance for some much needed down time. We ate, drank, slept and generally just took some time to relax and de-stress. It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

We have cruised several times before and have always enjoyed it very much. This time we were not planning on going on a cruise the week before Christmas. It just sort of happened. I was at work one day around the first of November and Jo Ann called me with an interesting proposition: “Do you want to go on a cruise in December?” Well, I am always up for adventure, but I had to ask. “what’s the catch?”. Turns out, there was no catch. Since we are such ‘experienced’ cruisers, she got an email from Carnival making us an offer on a 7 day cruise that was, in reality, too good to pass up. Suffice it to say, we could not have spent a weekend in New Orleans for what we could paid for the cruise. My response was short and to the point” “Book it!”

We had both been burning the candle at both ends for some time. For me it was a very busy work schedule and some other endeavors that kept me running. For Jo Ann, she takes care of her Mom, who lives with us, does a lot of work with out Scout troop and has a very demanding job at the high school these days. She is supposed to work part-time, three days a week. But, her personality does not allow her to just walk away when things still need to be done. Plus, for someone who is not a morning person, she is devout about being up at 5:30 every morning to get to work on time. We both needed some ‘down time’ and this fit the bill.

We were both excited about going but, as always, the stress of trying to get everything done and all the loose ends tied up before we left only made things worse. We had Christmas shopping to do, work projects to finish, things to do. I had a conference in New Orleans Friday and Saturday before we sailed on Sunday. I had to finish a PowerPoint presentation for a session I was teaching. But it seemed like it was going to work out okay, since we were able to book a room on Canal Street for Friday and Saturday. This would allow us to just check out of the hotel Sunday morning and head straight to the cruise terminal. Of course, there was a kink in that plan too. We were going to try to leave Friday around Noon, but I had something come up at work I needed to take care of, so it was closer to 5:00 when we finally got on the road. But as we left Watson and headed to New Orleans, we both breathed a big sigh of relief. We were on our way!

We checked into the hotel around 7:00, dropped our bags and headed across Canal for dinner at Palace Cafe. We decided to turn in early, so it was back to the hotel. The next morning, I did not have to be at the conference until 1:00, so we ordered coffee from room service and then got dressed and walked into the French Quarter for coffee and begients at Cafe’ Du Monde. Afterwards, we went to the French Market, did a little shopping and then strolled through the Quarter, back toward the hotel. After I was done with my conference, we met up with some friends who had come down to New Orleans too. We had dinner at Felix’s Oyster House and then caught the Streetcar to City Park to see the Celebration In The Oaks. We had a wonderful time and it really put us all in the Christmas Spirit.

Sunday morning we were up early and had a wonderful breakfast in the Quarter. On the walk back to the hotel, we ran into a movie crew that was filming that morning. There was a New York City cab sitting on the corner of Common Street and Barrone. There was also piles of melting snow in the streets and around the buildings. Not real snow, but movie snow; cotton batting placed to look like piles of snow. Not every day you see snow outside the old Whitney Bank.

We checked out the the hotel, got the car and headed for the cruise terminal! We parked the car, got ourselves checked in and were aboard the Carnival Dream in less than an hour. Things were looking up! First rule of a cruise is “eat early and often” So we hit the buffet on the Lido Deck and then went off to find our room. We got to Deck 2 and found Stateroom 2306, our home for the next week. That is where I got the first surprise. One of the reasons we got such a good deal on the cruise was we were supposed to have an inside stateroom. No big deal. A room on a cruise is like a hotel room in Las Vegas. All you are really going to do there is sleep and take a shower. But, my sweet wife surprised me by upgrading us to an outside room with a porthole balcony. That balcony is my happy place and she knew it. She loves me a lot.

We got settled, unpacked and then waited for the ship to weigh anchor and and set sail. That came around 4:15. They cranked up the engine, used the side thrusters and before long we were moving. It amazes me how they do it, but it took less than 10 minutes for them to turn a ship, which is bigger than a WWII aircraft carrier, around in the Mississippi River, back up, turn again and get us headed down river. But then we were on our way. Seeing New Orleans from the river as the sun sets behind the City is a real treat.

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As we cruised down the river, I could feel my cares melting away.  Seven days of Caribbean sun awaited us.  You can see some cool sights headed down river from the Big Easy.  At the Governor Nichols Street Wharf, there are two ships, which are actually owned by the U. S. Army transportation corp.

Somewhere around Jackson Barracks, we had a bunch of kids playing on the levee bid us ‘bon voyage’.

Then we got the same from the crew of a Chinese freighter.

As it grew dark, I took advantage of my private veranda to put my feet up and relax before supper. as the Mississippi delta slipped by.

Well, it is late and looks like this is going to be a multiple part blog, so I will stop here, where I have a good stopping point. Next time I will tell you about seeing the sun rise at sea. You don’t want to miss it.

Blessed Assurance

Those of you who have been following my blog since the beginning may remember the post ‘Farewell Mon Ami” I wrote about attend the memorial service for my friend Frank Touchet a few months ago.  One of the things that struck me the most that day, and brought back a flood of memories, was the music.  The traditional gospel hymns that were sung were so uplifting to me.  They also made me think of my Momma.

If you are not a regular, you may be surprised to find out what one of the most contentious issue in Evangelical churches is today. No, it’s not about right to life, the accuracy of the Scriptures, or the role of the Holy Spirit.  It is not about gay marriage, civil rights, or stewardship. It’s not even whether we should be winning souls on the other side of the world or in our own neighborhoods.  No it is not any of those things.  It is about music. Or the lack thereof, depending on which side of the issue you are on.

Most of us, who are may age or so, grew up on church singing the old hymns and worship songs that had been around seemingly forever;  They were familiar, comforting and everyone knew both the words and the tune.  Most of us could sing our hearts out for a whole worship service and never have to look at the words in the hymn book, unless they decided to sing the third verse.  However, over the years there has been a distinct trend to move away from the ‘traditional’ songs to something dubbed ‘contemporary’.   Contemporary apparently means  choruses and short songs, set to a melody most people don’t know, with the words flashed up on a screen over the stage.  It also means that when they do sing an old hymn, it is set to a different tune or arrangement, so that most of us not only don’t know the music, but the order the words go in.

I get. I really do. The idea is to reach a younger crowd, many of whom did not grow up in church and are not necessarily tied to the traditional hymns. Using music with a newer sound reaches out to them.  And I also understand that the worship leaders and musicians like doing something new and different.  I get it. I really do. But that does not mean that I like it.

I have always been a congregational singer.  I have never been shy about singing loudly and enthusiastically.  I may not be that great of a singer, but the Bible says make a ‘joyful’ noise to the Lord. It never says you have to sound good doing it. .   But lately I find myself standing silently, unable (and perhaps unwilling) to join in on a chorus I have never heard before.

Well, there was none of that in the Jennings Church of Christ that Saturday when we honored Frank.  The music was good ole fashioned congregation singing, just like I was used to all my life.  (Well, not exactly; since it was a Church of Christ, there was no piano or other accompaniment, but it did not matter.)  We started out with that old standard “Amazing Grace”.  Even though I was 3 hours from Watson and in the church of a different denomination, I felt like i was home.

We sang a few more.  “When We All Get to Heaven’ has always been one of my personal favorites.  I think I awed my friends sitting next to me that I could sing all the songs without even opening the hymn book, but I did.  These were my songs.  Songs I had heard all my life, not only in church, but all the time in my Momma’s house, just about every day.

Momma had a beautiful voice and loved to sing. But, she never had any formal training and would not even think about being in the church choir, much less singing a solo or anything like that.  We could never convince her that she really could sing and was self conscious singing in front of other people. But oh my, did she love to sing at home.  I have many memories over the years of her doing laundry or cleaning house and singing at the top of her voice old standards like “Holy, Holy, Holy” , “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”,   “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus”, “I Surrender All”  and many others. She sang what was in her heart. Even though she would never believe it, it was wonderful.  A few years ago, after Momma passed away, I found an old George Jones song.  The title was “When Momma Sang, The Angels Stopped to Listen”.  Nothing could have been closer to the truth.

My Momma and Daddy on their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

As I sat there  that Saturday morning, my thoughts drifted back to the old days and Momma. I thought about how much she would have liked the choice of music that day.  Then we stood up to sing again and this time it was “Blessed Assurance”.  I sang with tears in my eyes.  That was one of Momma’s favorites.  And as I listened to the words, I realized that the song fit my Momma in so many ways.

The hymn was written in 1873 by Fannie Crosby and has been a Christian standard ever since. The lyrics as based on an  interpretation of Hebrews 10:22, which begins ” “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” .  If you knew my Momma, you know she had a true heart and if anybody ever had full assurance of faith, it was her.

The first verse goes like this:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

If you knew Margaret, one thing was for sure, she had no doubt that Jesus was hers. And she would tell you pretty quick that she was born of the spirit and washed in the blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.

Well, I told  you she would spend all day singing and praising. Sometimes it was by singing that very song. Yep, every time I hear that it makes me think of Momma

Perfect submission, all is at rest!
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

No matter what was going on or how bad things seemed to the rest of us, Momma had the assurance that everything was going to be okay.  She was definitely happy and blest in her Savior.  She was also filled with goodness and lost in His love.  Everyday. It was the way she lived her life. And it put a song in her heart. Fortunately, I was blessed to be part of a very exclusive audience. And, I have no doubt that she is still singing, as the song says, “Praising my Savior all the day long!”

If you have time, you should listen to this: