Friday, January 31, 2014

Academy Awards Project: American Hustle and Captain Phillips

What began as my Golden Globes project morphed into an Academy Awards project since I was not feeling well enough to go to the movies throughout much of late December and early January.  Medication seems to be improving my life, so I'm trying to finish the project I've started.

While in southern California recently, I went to see American Hustle with a couple of friends. The film features an amazing cast, including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper, and has gotten a lot of sensational reviews. I went into the film expecting great things and really excited to see it.

The film was entertaining and enjoyable. I will recommend that others see it. I didn't walk away with the impression that it was one of the best films of the year. When you peel away the star power of its cast and the period costumes (sad that we already think of 70s disco wear as "period pieces"), you're left with a fairly predictable film. I was especially disappointed with the original music included in the movie. I left the theater with a smile on my face and a question on my mind:  it was fun, but what was it really about?

For me, I'm still looking for a film to prove itself worthy of the company of 12 Years a Slave and Philomena.

On Sunday afternoon, I found a film that deserved to be in the company of these films:  Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks. The story centers around an American ship that is boarded by Somalian pirates. Normally, this is not the type of film that I really enjoy; however, the strength of the ensemble cast drew me into the story and made for an entertaining afternoon of story, adventure, thrills, and triumph.

I was especially intrigued by the relationship between the characters of Captain Phillips and the pirate who refers to himself as "Captain." What we expect to be a typical good vs. evil battle quickly reveals itself to have much deeper undercurrents. I must admit, the more I see Tom Hanks' work, the more impressed I am. From Captain Phillips, Walt Disney, Forrest Gump, and Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code to Woody in Toy Story and Josh in Big, Tom Hanks is truly one of the best actors of this generation.

It should be interesting to see how this film does during the rest of the awards season; Captain Phillips is definitely note-worthy and a fine representation of American cinema.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Learning Some New Things

I've always enjoyed learning new things. I suppose that's part of the reason I am pursuing a career in higher education. Opening my mind to new concepts on a regular basis keeps me sharp and entertained. I love to teach, but I also enjoy sitting in classes when they are carefully prepared and introduce me to new material that is interesting to me.

There's a lot of learning going on right now in my life. Some of it is entirely on my own. This term, I am teaching a section of music appreciation as a hybrid course -- half the material is presented in a traditional classroom setting while the remaining information is presented online. It's been an interesting process to rethink a course that I am so comfortable teaching. I'm developing podcasts and creating worksheets to allow for maximum understanding of material. I'm scouring the web for interesting articles and videos that further explain concepts. I know future sections of the course will be much easier, but right now I'm finding that it takes a lot of time and commitment to create an effective learning environment online.

Because I don't want to allow my spiritual man to lie dormant, I am working through Beth Moore's Bible study on the Patriarchs. I love Beth's teaching (even if it is intended primarily for women) and have always enjoyed the book of Genesis. As I've revisited these familiar stories, I have found my eyes opened to new truths that are changing my entire understanding of the Book of Beginnings. Since I'm not involved in a small group at the moment, the self-paced Bible study is providing some accountability for me.

I have always wanted to increase my understanding and awareness of jazz, but never seemed to have the time to really take a class. My hand was forced a little bit since I have a blind student enrolled in my traditional music appreciation course this term. Because of his disability, my unit on musical theater will not work. That means I need to develop a new unit. This realization combined with the discovery of a free online jazz appreciation class from the University of Texas at Austin created the perfect storm for me. I'm really enjoying listening to new sounds while being reminded of the struggles my students face as they begin their journey of understanding the unfamiliar. The jazz class has just started; I'll finish up the material a few weeks before I present my new unit on the subject. In a busy semester, it's a deadline I wish I didn't have looming, but I tend to work well under pressure.

I suppose I should get back to the books now and continue my personal learning again.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hits and Misses (January 19-25)

I'm trying to get back into the blogging routine. Let's get started with a look at the week that was.


  • Sunday evening was such fun having friends for dinner and a movie in Malibu. It's always great to hang out with the guys who keep me young and love me unconditionally. Throw in great conversation and Disney's Aladdin and you have the recipe for a great night.
  • To end my time in Malibu, I experienced a first……lying in a hammock overlooking the Pacific. The view was beautiful, the hammock was relaxing, and the air was crisp. I never imagined that I would actually enjoy lazing away in a hammock, but it was awesome. Hopefully next time there won't be quite the chill in the air.  I have a feeling it would be easy to pass several hours in such a peaceful situation.
  • My workouts became more intense this week as I resumed working with my trainer. I have always enjoyed working with Spencer, but had to put it aside because I simply didn't have time in my schedule. I was surprised when I got a message from him asking if I would be interested in scheduling two 30-minute sessions each week. These seem more realistic for my schedule and stamina at the moment. When my classes start at Union on Thursday, I'm not certain where my training times will appear, but I have a feeling it will seem more manageable to keep a 30-minute appointment than trying to find another two hours in my week.


  • Red eye flights and jet lag are the pits! I didn't want to leave Malibu, so I waited until the last possible minute to fly home. Teaching a 5:30 class after landing at the airport less than 10 hours earlier was not fun. I'm still trying to catch up on all of my rest without being too terribly cranky.
  • Conflicting information is no fun while traveling either. When I arrived in Cincinnati to make my connection, snow showers had moved into the area and snow covered the runways. The agent at the gate assured us that our connection to Memphis was only delayed; the plasma screen in the terminal announced that the flight had been cancelled. It's never a good feeling to think that the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. Thankfully, I made it to Memphis with only a 35 minute delay…..and a lot of stress in Ohio!
  • Returning from holiday always seems so busy. My to do list has been long all week and it felt as though I would never catch up. I finally had to revisit the list and push things ahead to next week just to keep my head above water. 
  • What made my schedule so insane were the tremendous number of technical problems I encountered. Web links wouldn't work. Once the links were established, Java couldn't support the documents without a significant update. Students still don't have access to necessary materials. My home computer required a major update that put it out of commission for several hours. It just seemed to be one thing after another once I got home.
  • To top it all off, I'm fighting a cold or lung infection. I'm not running fever and don't really feel sick, but I've got more than the normal amount of congestion in my chest and head. My ears are stuffy, throat is irritated, and my left shoulder aches. (I think the shoulder aches are associated with an old injury that I've aggravated now that I'm beginning to lift in the gym again.)
There you have it!  Hope you all have a great week.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hits and Misses (January 12-18)

Greetings from sunny Malibu, California! It's time to take a look at the week that was before heading back to my normal reality.


  • The first week of a new semester at MSCC has gotten off to a relatively good start. It appears that I have 4 pretty good classes this term (2 music appreciation and 2 college survival). Good students with positive attitudes always make the semester go better.
  • I'm enjoying the challenge of developing a hybrid section of music appreciation. It's requiring me to rethink the content and its presentation since half of the material is presented to students via online resources. I can see how the material will constantly be able to adapt and improve with each subsequent term.
  • Medication is a miracle of modern science. Now that it seems my blood pressure is coming under control, I am beginning to feel like I can spend some quality time at the piano again.....and enjoy it! It's a welcome change from the past few months.
  • I always like to see results from my hard work. Last week was one of those weeks. With diet changes and getting back to the gym most days, I lost 6 pounds. I've got a long way to go, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
  • There's nothing better than waking up to the warmth of the sun and the beautiful scenery of Malibu. I love this place and always find such peace here. Even more than the natural beauty, the incredible people I know and love here make this home for me.
  • On this trip to LA, I had very little planned that I needed to do. Since there was a very relaxed pace (a definite change for most of my trips to Malibu), Jeff and I decided to take in the Los Angeles Zoo. I had never heard much about the zoo and didn't really know what to expect. The exhibits were lush and well manicured. So many animals to well as some people watching....made for a really fun day. I think I will always treasure the 30 minutes (Literally!) that we spent watching the baby koala bear with its mother. 
  • Dinner Saturday evening at the mall in Century City brought a few questions. How have I missed hearing about Which Wich? When will one of these amazing food stands find its way to  Memphis? Am I seriously considering a trip to Music City for this grub?
  • I despise repeating assignments because someone else failed to communicate clearly. We expect more from our students. Why don't we expect the same from administrative leadership in an academic setting?
  • Got on my flight from Memphis to Atlanta on Friday afternoon only to be stuck on the Tarmac for 30 minutes while we were cleared for take off. Why wasn't this revelation made while we were comfortably sitting in the terminal instead? Come on, Delta Airlines. Get your act together!
  • I saw American Hustle with Jeff and Paulie on Saturday night. I enjoyed the movie and thought the cast was really strong, but I don't understand what all the Oscar buzz is about. Because of all the hype, I left the theater a little disappointed.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hits and Misses (January 5-11)

Once again it's time to take a look at the week that was.


  • Television premieres are well under way. I've enjoyed watching the season premiere of The Bachelor, but more importantly, the season 4 premiere of Downton Abbey. I'm not sure how I discovered the British series, but it is some of the best writing and acting on television. I look forward to seeing it every Sunday evening.
  • I hate going to the doctor because I despise needles. This week, I had a general physical. The greatest success story is that I didn't faint while blood was drawn. That's a huge deal in my family.
  • I was blessed to get relatively good reports from the physical. My cholesterol and blood pressure are both high, but these are things that can be treated with medication and a healthy diet. 
  • Two recipes topped the charts this week.  Ina Garten's Lemon Chicken Breasts is always a good meal. We found these Pork Chops in a garlic and red wine reduction earlier this year on Ree Drummond's website. Amazing flavor!
  • Cold weather is not my friend! It took me days to finally get warm. My sleep was disrupted with all the water running to keep pipes from freezing. I had to dig out scarves and sleep in layers of clothes to stay warm. This was the pits!
  • Even though the final report from the physical was good, there were some scary moments. Since my liver activity was high, I was scheduled for an abdominal ultrasound. I didn't receive results until the next day when the doctor's office asked me to come by to talk about "therapies." Talk about scaring the crap out of me! It was a very long day as I waited for the appointment and my mind went everywhere it shouldn't have gone.
  • Learning to eat like a grown up  is not fun! That's all I have to say on that topic. It's necessary, but it's not easy.
  • Sadly, Christmas vacation has come to an end. Ready or not, here we go again!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Taking Control

Health insurance kicked in at the beginning of the year, so I decided it was time to have a standard physical. I have known for quite some time that I needed to have general blood work done, but I've avoided it. Partially because I didn't want to be out the cash. Partially because I hate needles. Partially because ignorance is bliss.

I survived having my blood drawn. When the lab results came back, my cholesterol showed as high. More disturbing, however, was the elevated activity shown by my liver. The doctor ordered an abdominal ultrasound. Now I'm sitting in the doctor's office to see the results and talk about the future "therapy." (Getting that phone call this morning scared the CRAP out of me. My mind has gone to the worst possible scenerios and I've tried to maintain a positive outlook.)

Knowing that my cholesterol is high, it's time to take control of my diet as well. I have been a picky eater my entire life. It's not that I don't want to eat food that is healthy for my body. The tastes and smells literally make me ill. I feel like a fool because I eat like a 4-year-old, but it's all I'm able to do.....until now. I'm determined to take control of my mind and conquer this.

Yesterday, I went to grocery with the plan of picking up one veggie and one fruit that I don't currently eat. I had already decided that baby carrots would be the place to begin. While in the produce aisle, I held the baby carrots in one hand and saw tiny carrot sticks just a few steps away. People must have thought I was insane as I literally talked myself out of getting the sticks (hey, they would have been smaller)! I went through several other aisles, looking for healthy food options that would be an improvement on my current diet.

When I got home, I knew I had to just dive into the new foods. I made a turkey sandwich accompanied by wheat crackers, 2 tiny carrot sticks, and a POOL of ranch dressing. I had to disguise the carrots by mixing them with larger portions of other foods, but I got them down! What a huge success for me. Then I realized that I'll be fighting the battle again very soon.

Today's adventure has been much less stressful. I began with a bowl of maple and brown sugar oatmeal. It's not my favorite thing, but I can eat it. I missed lunch due to meetings and the doctor's appointment, so I simply had a cup of Greek yogurt -- another new food for me. It is a little more tart than normal yogurt, but I can acquire a taste for it because of its health benefits.
Now I just have to wait for the test results and then head home for my date with 2 more carrots and a pool of ranch dressing!

(PS - Thankful that the only problem revealed by the ultrasound is a fatty liver. After this stressful day of waiting, I couldn't manage carrots for dinner. I'll get back on that tomorrow though.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bible Reading Plans

2014 is off and running. Many people have made resolutions to improve their lives in the coming year. Amid the resolutions to lose weight, become more organized, and devote more time to family, it seems that many include a spiritual goal. Whether you want to grow spiritually, maintain a daily devotional life, or simply read the entire Bible this year, a plan of attack is helpful to help you achieve your goals.  Here are some tips that I have found helpful in reading the entire Bible in one year.

Select your plan carefully. The Bible is a wonderful book, filled with encouraging stories of faith. At the same time, it can be daunting and overwhelming to the uninitiated. Where do I start? By the time the reader gets to Leviticus, he may find himself wondering what happened to the story line!  Two of the most popular approaches are canonical (reading straight through) and chronological (in historical order). I've tried both and had difficult times. I found it really tough to plow through the Old Testament prophecy day after day.  The good news is that there is a plethora of reading plans available on the Internet; one of my favorite sites to find a large number of them is At this time, I am using the plan found at; each day of the week is devoted to a different type of Biblical literature (e.g. Sundays are for NT letters, Mondays are for Law, Tuesdays are devoted to History). I find the diversity of reading a different literary genre each day quite refreshing. I began reading with this method in June and am just over halfway through the plan.

Decide on a translation. There is no right or wrong choice. I enjoy reading in a translation that I am not terribly familiar with to give the words new meaning. If you have never read the entire Bible through, I recommend using the New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), or the English Standard Version (ESV).

Set aside time. It is important to your success to make a daily appointment for Scripture reading just as you would any other appointment. Our society is driven by our calendars; if we block the time out, we are more likely to follow through.

Don't be afraid of technology! Modern conveniences make my daily Bible reading much easier to fit into my life. I include a daily reminder to read on my electronic to-do list. The youversion Bible app is downloaded on my phone and iPad, allowing me easy access to whatever version I'm reading from without the need for a wi-fi connection. Since I'm not using one of the reading plans included in the Bible app, I use an app like Evernote or Notes to make a list of my daily readings for the week.

Know from the beginning that life happens. Schedules will become hectic and there will be times that you miss your daily reading. Relax! You have not failed at reading the entire Scripture in a year because of a single day. Many new reading plans build in catch-up days to allow for these inevitable obstacles. In my current reading plan, I know that Wednesdays and Thursdays tend to have shorter readings; when I get behind, I can use those days to do some catch up reading.

Keep the Focus the main focus. We are not reading simply to mark something off our bucket list. We read Scripture in an effort to know the Author of the Book more personally and allow Him to make a difference in our life. Keep your focus on the transformation occurring in your life because of the time you are devoting to reading the Word of God.

I'd love to hear from you. What plan are you using this year to read through the Word? Can you add tips that you have found helpful? Share in the comment section of this post and let's support each other throughout the year….then we can celebrate the greatness of God in our lives together at the end.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Hits and Misses (December 30 - January 4)

Here's my look back at the week that was.


  • There's nothing better than getting an unexpected paycheck. I won't say that I was completely broke, but it certain arrived at a time when I could use the cash. It allowed me to follow through with a planned trip to Malibu later this month. It would be an understatement to say that I was thrilled to open the envelope!
  • I spent New Year's Eve at home watching movies. After a quick trip to a Redbox kiosk, I enjoyed 2 great films:  Jobs and Gatsby. Both were very different, yet very entertaining. Great way to ring in the new year for me.
  • I hate arriving at the movies just in time for the film to start and then discover (as the opening credits are rolling) that I have selected a broken seat. I don't want to move because I hate when people crawl over me as well……but I'm spending the next 2 hours shifting in the vain effort to find a comfortable position in the broken chair.
  • This has not been a good week for me health-wise. I've suffered from headaches that just would not go away, restless tossing and turning at night, and an elevated blood pressure that I couldn't get down. As this post is publishing, I am visiting my GP for a physical and hope to have some answers in the coming days. It's been a long week, but I'm hopeful for positive feedback today.
  • Last Sunday, I decided to visit my former church home. I enjoyed the worship, but when the sermon rolled around I found myself bored out of my mind. The congregation was treated to the same sermon delivered this time last year (and based upon my memory and the dates on the slides, I think the year before). I'm all for re-enforcing previously presented material, but I despise exact repetitions of anything. I could certainly say more about this, but I'll refrain.
  • I hate cold weather! Last week saw several days that were very chilly and the outlook for the next few days doesn't look much better. According to the weatherman, the local high temperature today in Memphis will be a balmy 15! That's just too cold for me…..I'm looking forward to a return trip to sunny southern California next week. It can't get here soon enough!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Golden Globes Project - The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street stars Leonardo DiCaprio with direction by Martin Scorsese. The film tells the story of Jordan Belfort's rise and fall within the world of the stock broker. In my opinion, the movie has garnered all of its accolades based on the names and reputations of its actors and director. The film had little that was award worthy in my estimation.

First things first, this movie is LONG! By the time we entered the second hour of the story, I was just ready for Belfort to be arrested. Enough already! I was turned off from the outset by the excessive use of vulgarity. A scene early in the film between DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey's characters was filled with language that would make a sailor blush. While the scene itself was effective, the constant barrage of unseemly language reduced the emotional power of the words.

So no one thinks I'm just a language prude, I was further offended by the unnecessary nudity and worship of drug use in the film. While I understand that women and recreational drugs were part of Belfort's life (and demise), I think that the constant use of cocaine and other drugs were treated as a comedic trick and something to be lauded.

The Globes have also confused me in their categorization of the film. Why is this movie considered a comedy? The Wolf of Wall Street certainly fits the bill for a tragedy; calling it a comedy simply points out the depravity of our society and the foreign press' willingness to toss nominations at film makers based solely on their past successes.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Accountability Time……and Planning Ahead

Happy New Year! It's difficult to believe that another year has come and gone. I'm looking forward to 2014 and all that it might bring. Before I get too far into the new year, I wanted to make sure that I provided some accountability on the resolutions that I made last January. (If there's no accountability, there's little likelihood that anything will change.)  So here's how I made out on my five resolutions for 2013.

  1. Reading more. This is an annual goal. I always want to read more than I did the previous year. At the end of 2012, I had read 32 books in the calendar year.  That total was CRUSHED in 2013!  I ended the year having read 46 books! I'm getting closer to that goal of reading approximately one book per week.  Since I know I'm not the only one out there who likes stats, here are how things broke down:
      • 13 audio books (I listened)
      • 33 paper/electronic books (I read the words on the page)
    • And to break down the types of reading I did……FICTION led the way with 34 novels. CHRISTIAN LIVING came in next with 6 books. MEMOIRS and MUSIC rounded out the categories with 3 books in each.
  2. Lose 20 pounds. This is the most frustrating of all my resolutions. I was well on my way during the winter and summer. I was headed to the gym 3 times a week and actually enjoying it. Life had other plans though. When school was in session and I was spending hours on the road each day, I didn't physically feel like working out. I was much more interested in survival. I guess that's an excuse….but it was my reality. What I did learn is that I am capable of losing the weight; I just have to figure out how to fit it into an insane routine. I'm not giving up…..but I'm not putting as much pressure on myself either. I'm more interested in feeling healthy than looking fit.
  3. Write on a more consistent basis. The goal was to publish blog posts 4 times each week; 3 of them were to be here while the other would appear over on Collaborations. My writing went through spurts (again attributed to my busy schedule), but I'm pretty happy with the year's overall productivity in this area. Again, I'll let the numbers speak for themselves.
      • Livin' Life - 118 posts
      • Reading for Me - 49 posts
      • Collaborations - 29 posts
      • TOTALING 196 POSTS! (That works out to 3.77 posts per week….YEAH!)
  4. Find time for rest. When making this resolution, my life looked very different. I didn't find 8 hours each week to devote to personal enjoyment as I had originally hoped. I did make the decision to resign one of my jobs. Since making that decision, I am much healthier and find myself enjoying the bulk of my life again.
  5. Spiritual Growth. Isn't this something we all long for? It's so difficult to measure too. This has been a rough year and one that I am glad to see in my rear view mirror. While I went through some dry seasons, I rejoice in the fact that I actually enjoy going to worship again. I'm not the most regular attender at the moment (partially because I'm still trying to settle down in a single church home and because I'm still enjoying the liberty of not having responsibilities that demand my attendance), but I am growing in my faith. My quiet times have become essential to my daily routine. I find myself wanting to be with God's people and loving them. Those two things alone signify tremendous growth from where I was this time last year.

Now that I've been accountable, here are my RESOLUTIONS FOR 2014.  You'll see that many of them are extensions on what I've already accomplished in the past year.
  1. Become actively involved in a strong Christian fellowship of believers.
  2. Increase my total reading activity.
  3. Take control of my health - emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
  4. Memorize 2 major works for solo piano.
  5. Improve the consistency and quality of my blogging - especially on Collaborations.
  6. Consistently schedule activities that will bring rejuvenation and relaxation.