Monday, April 13, 2015

Houston - 4

Greetings, All.

I want to update you on our Houston non-medical activities by starting with today, Sunday, April 12, then working backward. 

Windsor Village United Methodist Church.

A couple of weeks back I had lunch with a statistician friend, Eric Ziegel.  I mentioned that we had been sampling Houston's oldest downtown Methodist churches.  He said, You might want to visit Windsor Village Methodist, the largest Methodist church in town, maybe in Texas.  I checked the church's website and learned this about the pastor and the church:

Kirbyjon H. Caldwell is Senior Pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church.  Under the leadership of Caldwell since 1982, Windsor Village Church membership has increased from 25 members to more than 16,000, making it one of the largest Protestant Churches in the country. 

As a result of Caldwell’s effective social entrepreneurship, both Caldwell and the Windsor Village Church Family have been featured extensively in national and international print and broadcast media, including U.S. News & World Report, the British Broadcasting Corporation, The Wall Street Journal and the CBS Evening News.  Caldwell was included in Newsweek’s “Century Club”, the publication’s list of 100 people to watch as America moved into the 21st century. 

In partnership with the Windsor Village Church Family, Caldwell has spearheaded several independently operated nonprofits and community development projects that have impacted the social and economic landscape of central Southwest Houston, including The Power Center and Pointe 2.3.4. 

The Power Center is a 21st century service delivery model of private and public partnership that serves 11,000-plus families a month. 

Pointe 2.3.4. is a 234-acre, mini-master-planned community that encompasses a commercial park which includes a: CVS Pharmacy, Walgreen’s, Advance Auto Parts, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, ABC Dental and TSO; Corinthian Pointe, a residential subdivision consisting of 462 homes; a YMCA; an HISD elementary school; a senior high charter school; Texas Children’s Pediatrics Center; Corinthian Village independent living facility for seniors; and the 183,000-square-foot Kingdom Builders’ Community Center.  Collectively, the nonprofit projects have produced 700 permanent jobs and make a $65.5 million cash flow impact on the community annually.  Additionally, Caldwell is the founder of three schools that provide education to students from elementary to senior high school.

Caldwell currently serves on several corporate and nonprofit boards, including NRG Energy where he serves as Chair of the Governance Nominating Committee, Inc., Bridgeway Capital Management, The Greater Houston Partnership Executive Committee, Southern Methodist University and M.D. Anderson-The University Cancer Foundation.  He is also a limited partner with the Houston Texans NFL Franchise. 

A native Houstonian, Caldwell was educated in the Houston public schools; received a B.A. Degree in Economics from Carleton College; an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Business; a Master’s Degree in Theology from Southern Methodist University-Perkins School of Theology; and two honorary Doctor of Law degrees, one from Huston-Tillotson College and another from Carleton College. 

Caldwell is a husband, father and author of the best seller The Gospel of Good Success and co-author of Entrepreneurial Faith.

I knew from the website that Rev. Caldwell was black, but I thought the scope of the church's involvements and a church that large in racially and ethnically mixed Houston would probably be similarly mixed.  Turned out that was wrong, at least at the service we attended this afternoon (the church has services on Saturday evening and at 8:00, 10:00, and 12:00 on Sunday; we went to the noon service).  Everybody was warm and welcoming; nobody did a double take - just what colorblindness should be like. 

I was expecting an auditorium full of 1-2,000 people, but though the auditorium would hold that, attendance was just a few hundred.  The preacher said that's to be expected the Sunday after Easter. (I found later online that weekend worship service attendance can total 6500.)  But, we got a full hour and a half of worship, no question.  Started off with lots of singing - loud, exuberant.  The choir at this service was the women's chorus, led by a very charismatic lady. 

Then came Rev. Caldwell, dressed casually.  He first talked about all the activities going on at Windsor Village.  The church has an ELC (Entrepreneur Learning Center - how many churches have one of those?).  At this time they were offering training classes on contracting skills, as I recall.  As you can see above, the church has a mission for job creation and economic development.  There was also a Men's Health Fair right after church.  And more. 

Then he brought up the shooting in South Carolina - black, unarmed man shot by a white policeman.  Uh, oh, we thought.  But, he quickly made this point: I don't know what motivated the policeman (the preacher had talked about how motivation leads to methodology), but if he confesses his sins, accepts Christ, and then lives in the light, not the darkness, he will be as welcome in Heaven as others are.  Sins are forgiven, not graded on the curve. 

The sermon was based on the first few verses of John1.  John1 was written to people who had known Jesus on Earth - who had seen him, heard him, touched him.  The letter is an instruction manual on how they were to live after he was gone: in the light, not darkness.  Which led to a story.

Rev. Caldwell had recently gone to downtown Houston for a recognition service for Memorial Hermann Healthcare.  This is a group of Houston hospitals and clinics that is a leader in charity care - providing care for people who can't pay.  (Way back when, daughter Mandi was born in a Memorial Hermann hospital, but having a baby then probably only cost $50).  He couldn't find a parking place.  There was a concurrent event at a downtown auditorium.  He finally found a lot where he could park for $20 - outrageous, he thought.  (We concur.  Parking is steep in Houston.  I was on the campus of Rice U. yesterday, Saturday, for about an hour, parking in a nearly empty stadium parking lot, and the charge was $4.) 

In leaving the parking lot he fell in step with a couple of women, one of whom seemed to recognize him.  He asked where they and all these other people were going.  They said they were on the way to a comedy show by one of today's comics who use a lot of obscenity.  He could tell she was a little uncomfortable admitting their destination.  As they parted, she said to him, "Keep me lifted up." 

He fell down laughing as he told this story.  He had earlier made the point that to judge whether an action is in the light or not, you have to have a measurement method, a frame of reference.  That got my statistical attention.  The point of the story was that she knew how what she was doing measured up, but she was going anyhow.  Now, maybe the pastor was being Puritanical, and he didn't chastise her, but it was a good point.  She recognized darkness because she knew the light.  "Can I have an Amen."

There was lots more.  Entertaining and serious.  Lots of smiles and laughs by us.  His delivery brought back memories of Flip Wilson.  I quit taking notes.  More than once he said, "I'll get you out of here in 10 minutes."  He had some things to say about dealing with adversity that hit home to Susie and me.

We're very glad we went to Windsor Village Church.  The services are streamed via the website above in case you want to listen in some time. 

We topped the afternoon off with a very late lunch at a Cracker Barrel about 15 minutes away.  We love their Sunday special of country-fried chicken breasts.  (It just hit me, that some may find something racial in this, but it was purely coincidental - I had planned lunch before we left home.)

Pancreatic Cancer Walk.

Saturday was the NYC money-raising walk for funds for research on pancreatic cancer that granddaughter Kaci created a Strides for Susie team.  Many of you contributed and we're very grateful.  Her team raised $4,420, vs. a goal of $2,000.  The event overall raised an amazing $560,242.  Hope some of that research money goes to MD Anderson.  It will be well-spent.

A women's group in Albuquerque told us that they were going to have a walk at the same time, 10 am EDT, to express their support for Susie.  So, we decided we'd do the same. 

Susie Striding

Rob Striding

Arm motion is an important part of striding.

Art Car Parade.

Saturday afternoon I went to the 28th annual Houston Art Car Parade.  This is a big deal here, I read in the paper.  Wildly and often artfully decorated cars and other vehicles, from Houston and well beyond, parade along one of the city's parkways.  So, I went.  Here are several samples, presented mostly chronologically, not artistically.  After 150 entries went by, there was a break in the action so I left, thinking it was over.  Also, sprinkles had started.  I read in the Sunday paper, though, that there were 259 entries.  I really didn't regret missing the last 109.


This one is covered with sea shells.

This seafood-themed car was animated to music.  The lobsters on the hood would raise up and fall back down at appropriate times.


Sponsored by a dentist?

This car is covered with CDs.

That's all, Folks.


Because last week was a week without appointments or treatments, we had several outings together, often to get something to eat.  One day was a drive through the Rice University campus - I  plan to get some pictures before we leave.  Friend, Eric Ziegel, said it is one of his favorite places to walk, and we can see why - lots of trees, shaded walkways, and attractive buildings (You thought I was going to say coeds?)  Afterwards we had lunch in the adjoining Rice Village collection of shops and restaurants - we chose LePeep's. 

Saturday, after the Art Car Parade, I was back on campus to make a copy of a figure in a book that was in the Rice library.  This figure is needed for the book (on statistics, everybody groan) that I've written and that is now in pre-production and I had neglected to bring the book, or a copy of the figure with me.  Modern technology is wonderful: I scanned the page in, cropped the image to what I wanted (with some help from a student), and e-mailed it to myself.  For free.  Then, I forwarded it to my copy editor in Singapore. I should soon be getting page proofs to review.  Next big task is to create an index.  At any rate, between parking lot and library, I came across the school mascot, the Rice Owl.

Earlier in the week Susie said, "I need some better shoes for walking and Striding.  So, using more technology, we googled and mapped athletic shoe stores in Houston.  Keyed a couple of addresses into the car's GPS and away we went.  Turned out one of the stores we chose to visit was in the Galleria, Houston's swankiest shopping mall.  Susie found shoes there.  I'm really sorry I cut off Susie's feet in the picture above.   Nearby was a New Balance store where I updated my Striding Shoes, too.  I think it was on this outing that we stopped at a Chick-fil-a for lunch.  It was well after noon, but cars were lined up, a long line circling the building and beyond, and there was a crowd inside ordering eat-in or take-away, as they say in New Zealand.  But, we got a table and food in short order.  Don't know how they do it.  (As you can see, we're pretty adventurous in our dining choices.  We did Boston Market for lunch Saturday before I left for the parade.) 

Week before last we got this awesome bouquet delivered to us:

This came from Mandi and the SWA employees at LaGuardia.  Then a few days later, Susie got a SWA blanket and signed card from the company President and CEO, Gary Kelly, and Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus.  Thank you very much, Southwest Airlines.

I'll spare you the highlights of our trips to Kroger's and WalGreen's.


Thursday was baseball day for me.  The Astros had an afternoon game, then the city had a 50th birthday party for the Astrodome that evening.

I decided to take Metrorail downtown to the Minute Maid Stadium, where the Astros play.  There's a stop not far from us and not far from the stadium.  It was a nice way to go, even if I did have to park in a parking garage a couple of blocks away from our station.  A large lot adjacent to the train stop turned out to be restricted to Medical Center employees. Next time I'll walk.

I was approaching a ticket window when a young man came up to me and asked: "Are you here by yourself?"  I said I was and he said he had an unused ticket that I could use.  He and his brother generally come together, but the brother was out of town.  He said they were good seats, as if that were more important than being free.  I agreed quickly.  Turned out the seats were right behind the visitors' dugout, even with third base.  Here's the view:

As you can see, and would expect for a weekday, early season, afternoon game, there were lots of seats available.  I stayed put and enjoyed chatting with my benefactor.  After I told him what brought us to Houston, he said he was particularly glad to have given his brother's ticket to me.

Oh, here's the view a few degrees to the left, looking toward right field:

Actually, the cameraman was not a problem, particularly when the Astros were batting.  Four Cleveland pitchers kept them hitless until one out in the ninth, at which point the home team got a home run.  (The starter had thrown 111 pitches through the sixth inning, so, particularly this early in the season, there was no reason to risk injury by going for a complete-game no-hitter.  Only the possibility of a rare multi-pitcher no-hitter kept most of the fans in the park.)  The Astros' hitting woes continued through a weekend series at the Texas Rangers. 
This stadium has a retractable dome, but it was closed today on the chance of rain.  My friend, Billy, said they rarely open it.  The same for the NRG Stadium, where the Texans play. 
I caught the train back to my part of town.  Look, here it comes now.
Back at the parking garage, upon exiting I got caught up in the traffic leading to the Astrodome. It's been unused for several years and there is an ongoing Houston debate about whether to tear it down or keep it and re-purpose it, as they say.  There is a lot of sentiment for keeping it, but not much for paying for its re-do with taxpayer dollars.  Suggestions for a convention center or a water park have come and gone.  I saw one or two games here years ago, so I particularly was glad to participate in paying homage to what was once called "The Eighth Wonder of the World." 
The Astrodome was scheduled to open at 6:00 pm.  I got to the parking lot (FREE!) about 5:00, found my way to the free food line (hot dogs, popcorn, soft drinks and bottled water), then found my way to the end of the queue for entry.  The line wrapped about 2/3s of the way around the dome and its tail doubled back on itself, too.  This is a pretty poor selfie, but it's about the only exterior shot of the Dome and its queue that I took.

I thought there might be multiple entrances and you could wander in and look around.  I thought seats and field (either baseball or football) might be intact, but they weren't.  Turned out there was one entry and exit, down and out a truck access ramp, cordoned off to the width of two people at a time.  And people at the bottom of the ramp telling us to keep moving.  I got into the Dome about 8:00.  The paper said about 25,000 people came to the party and the line ran until after 10:00 pm. 
The seats have been removed and the turf rolled up and both piled on the floor.  Lighting inside was difficult, but here are three interior shots.

Just like Windsor Village Methodist Church, I'm glad I went.
I'm finishing this posting on Monday, the start of a big week in which Susie has various tests and we learn about what the next stage of treatment is to be.
We'll be in touch.
Susie and Rob

Thursday, April 02, 2015


Greetings, Friends and Family

As this is written (April Fools Day), Susie's next chemo treatment is tomorrow.  We've stuck pretty close to the apartment these last two weeks, but with some extracurricular activity.

Sweet 16.  Last Friday night I went to the Sweet 16 March Madness basketball games (the South Regional) held in the NRG Stadium where I had attended RodeoHouston the week before.  The maintenance team did manage to clear the dirt and droppings out of the arena, then install a basketball court and bleachers, as seen here.

This picture was taken from the seat for which I had a ticket.  When you put a basketball court in a humongous football stadium, the permanent seats, as you can see, are a long way from the court.  The temporary seats on the floor slant upward from the floor at a fairly low angle, so even at that level you can be far from the action and your view obstructed by the fans in front of you.  But, you can sell a lot of tickets.  (YEARS AGO, the Easterling family went to New Orleans for a Final Four played in the Superdome.  Same situation there.)

This stadium is the site of next year's Final Four.  There has been some grumbling online that lighting and layout are difficult for the players.  Statistically, this regional had the lowest shooting percentage of the four regionals.  Albuquerque's own Bryce Alford, playing for UCLA, who had hit either 8 or 9 three-pointers in 11 shots (depending on what your definition of goal-tending is) the previous weekend in a basketball arena, was roughly 1 for 10 here.  Gonzaga's defense, though, probably had something to do with it, though.  Analyzing data is difficult.

This section didn't fill up, so I moved closer to its bottom rows when the games started.  Didn't have to move until the second game when a late-arriving Duke fan showed up, and then it was just across the aisle.  Here's my enhanced view.

Oh, the games.  Gonzaga beat UCLA in the first; Duke beat Utah in the second.  I was rooting for the two underdogs, UCLA and Utah, but it was not to be.  Both the favorites built a solid lead in the first half and maintained it for the rest of the game, though Utah made a late run, by which time I was home in the apartment.  Glad I went to the games, though.  The way I looked it, I had zero travel and parking expenses, since I was already in town and could walk to the stadium, so if you subtract what those costs might have been from the ticket cost, it was a good deal.  The authorities seem to keep the stadium property cleared of scalpers, so I didn't have a chance to test the market (the games were far from a sellout).  Also, by buying my ticket at the stadium, rather than online, I avoided all those convenience fees the brokers like to charge.  This weekend I'm pulling for Wisconsin.

Tire Replacement.

When I was home, the tire sensor in the Lexus indicated a problem.  I found that the left rear tire was soft.  Took the car to my tire guys in Cedar Crest.  They could find no problem, so I drove to Houston, with no indication of a problem en route.  (The tire pressure sensor in our pick-up goes off on almost every trip to town, due to the change in elevation, so I'm inclined to ignore the sensor alerts as "false positives."  Also, from my years of experience in an engineering lab, I know instrumentation error can be blamed for a lot of things.) 

A few days after I got here, though, the sensor lit up again.  I checked and the LR tire was down to about 20 psi, vs. 36 or so on the other three tires.  I used my air compressor to air the softy up and then monitored it daily.  It lost about 1 psi per day for several days.  Definitely a problem.  I called AAA.  They would take the bad tire off and put the spare on, which I could do, but was hoping to avoid, but they didn't fix tires.  They did have a couple of authorized tire shops, though, that they recommended to me. 

I went to the closer one, Montrose Automotive, and they found and fixed the problem.  There was a nail embedded in the inside side of the tire.  Not easily findable.  Not fixable, either.  I first thought of a cheap solution.  Put the spare on and keep the punctured, very slow-leaker as a spare and monitor it closely.  That doesn't work for a modern spare.  It's skinnier than a regular tire and you can't put a wheel cover on it, so it's uglier.  Also, the regular tire doesn't fit in the trunk spare tire compartment.  So, I bought a new tire.  The folks at Montrose were very helpful and prompt, so if you ever need car service when you're in Houston, look 'em up.

Palm Sunday. First United Methodist Church.

We picked another downtown church to visit on this special day: First UMC.  Short history and description from the church's website:

First Methodist ... is in the heart of the city at 1320 Main St.  ... . This historic facility, built in 1910 on the “outskirts” of Houston, contains a beautiful Sanctuary with ornate stained glass windows that are complemented by an Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ, built in Boston, which contains over 7,000 pipes.

I didn't take and couldn't find online any interior pictures, but it all has a nice last-century feel to it.  The windows and the organ are beautiful. 

Friendly lady sitting next to me said that this is the oldest (Methodist?) church in Houston and the pipe organ is the original.  The organ, plus orchestra and choir, got a good workout.  Today's program was an oratorio by Dubois, titled, The Seven Last Words of Christ.  Dramatic music and text; three outstanding soloists, and a powerful choir.  I'd go so far as to say, "breathtaking!"  Susie reminded me that the St. John's choir in Albuquerque has done this oratorio before.  Oh, I said.  Thought I recognized it.  I haven't selected any links, but you can go to to hear various portions of this oratorio.

What are those seven words? I asked myself (before I read the program).  They're actually seven statements of Jesus when he was crucified, as recorded in various scriptures.  These statements are (in no particular order, according to the website on which I found them):

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”

 “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise"

“Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit”

 “Dear Woman, here is your son!”

 “I am thirsty”

"It is finished"

I once heard a memorable sermon built on the theme, Today's Friday, but Sunday's Coming!  Can I hear an Amen.  That's the Easter message.  That's the way we're trying to view this pancreatic situation.  The future is brighter than the present unpleasantness.

On a lighter note, Charlie Price, the late and always entertaining, assistant pastor at St. John's in Albq, had a way of explaining the difference between a hymn, an anthem, and an oratorio.  I don't recall the details, but the main idea was that an oratorio was a hymn with lots of repetition.  For example (mine), Jesus Loves Me, oratorio style would be: Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me, ... This I know, This I know, .... .  The "Seven Words" got some of that treatment, but it wasn't distracting. 

Nolan Ryan Center.

Nolan Ryan has long been one of my heroes.  He pitched in the major leagues for 27 years and threw his 7th no-hitter at age 44(!).  He was raised in Alvin, TX, about 40 miles south of here.  He attended Alvin Community College, briefly, and the college has honored him by building a Nolan Ryan Center (museum) on campus.  So, on Tuesday I drove to Alvin (not the way Susie wanted to spend a half day).  She had a pain in her neck, but that's not why I left the building.

(source. Alvin Community College website)

The Center has several videos and displays and lots of pictures describing Nolan's life and career.  It started with his family who instilled hard work, honesty, education, and other virtues into his character.  Here's a HS teacher getting and giving some credit.

Then there were videos pertaining to his years with each of the four teams for which he played. 

Because of injuries and wildness (throwing the ball, not extracurricular) he was very nearly out of baseball a couple of times in his early years.  At one point he enrolled in Alvin CC with plans to pursue a veterinarian degree.  According to the videos, his trade from the Mets to the Angels was an important turning point.  With the Angels, he got coaching that he hadn't gotten from the Mets.  He improved his control and his conditioning.  Throughout his career he put a lot of effort and science into his conditioning (once science got interested in baseball mechanics).  The trademark high kick shown here had a purpose.

Alvin, his family, and ranching, led to him winding down his career first with the Houston Astros, then with the Texas Rangers, where he could be close to his ranch and family.  His two sons became college pitchers.  The ranching continues.  He now lives in Georgetown, TX, near Austin.  Down here you can buy Nolan Ryan beef and hamburger in the grocery store, straight from the ranch, I reckon.  

I greatly enjoyed my time in the Nolan Ryan Center.  Had the place to myself - the lady in charge had to unlock the exhibit hall and turn on the lights when I got there. 

For more Nolan Ryan details, here's the Wikipedia link.  Ryan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, his first year of eligibility, nearly unanimously (some baseball writers - grouches - think he lost too many games, but he played for teams that lost a lot of games no matter who was pitching).  I went to Cooperstown the summer of 1999 for the induction ceremony.  I probably have this souvenir somewhere, but I bought one here: it's the imprint on an envelope that real enthusiasts mailed to themselves from the Cooperstown post office on July 25, 1999, to establish their presence.

The other three inductees that special year were George Brett, Robin Yount, and Orlando Cepeda.  It was a very good year.

As I left the Center, I asked the lady in charge for a recommended place for lunch in Alvin.  Joe's Barbecue, she immediately replied and gave me directions.  I went and had a fine barbecue meal.  A banner in Joe's proclaimed that it had been selected the best barbecue joint in the greater Houston area.  I haven't found one better, yet.

Bridge May Ice in Cold Weather

Regular readers may recall that in our previous travels in Texas I've been captivated by these signs on the approach to every bridge.  The signs are hinged, so that after cold weather is over, someone , I conjectured, comes along and flips the bottom half up so that it reads something inspirational like, Don't Mess With Texas.  I speculated that a DOT employee starts in Brownsville, Texas each spring or late winter and zig-sags his way back and forth across the state, up to the top of the panhandle, following the last-freeze line, flipping the signs up as he or she goes.  Then, in a few months, as Fall threatens to bring frost and icy bridges up North, he zig zags his way back to Brownsville, flipping the signs down.  Sounded like a good job to me. 

On my drive to Alvin I saw that the bridge warning was still showing, which meant the guy he hadn't gotten this far north by now, so I thought I'd pick a sign and stake it out and watch for him to come a-flippin.'  Then, I realized the signs I've seen here, so far, are not hinged.  Poor guy must have got laid off. 

So, that pretty well covers the last couple of weeks.

We'll be in touch.

Rob and Susie

p.s.  We were blown away today when this bouquet arrived from daughter Mandi and the Southwest Airlines employees at LaGuardia airport.  Thanks much to them and to all of Susie's support team.  Sunday's coming!