Photo Album for Thanksgiving 2007

The photo album that I just placed up a few hours ago are all photos Lolane Andra took.  She and Donald came down after Thanksgiving and spent a couple of days with us.  We went around and saw a bunch of the sites.  So you will see a pretty good variety of locations.  Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Jamestown, Monticello, Confederate White House, Hollywood Cemetery, and who knows what else.  I put most of the pictures up.  Enjoy!  You may recognize a couple of the photos as very common to other photos in other albums that we took.

Report for Thanksgiving

Here is a short update of what has been happening the past few weeks.
Thanksgiving Day we spent at Uncle Don and Lolane Andra’s home in Kensington, Maryland.  We enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving meal with them and the rest of the Rock Creek Ward.  We really enjoyed ourselves although we did not get to take home any left overs.  They came down to Richmond that evening and spent Friday through Monday with us.  Amanda took them to Monticello, we went to Jamestown Settlement on Saturday, Sunday we toured some of Richmond, and Monday we went to Shirley Plantation.  The highlight in the whole thing was taking them to church with us and meeting up for lunch with Sister Andra on Monday.  Sister Andra is Donald’s brother’s granddaughter, my second cousin.  It was a new idea for me to be at lunch with three missionaries and they are all related to me!  Please notice the picture I posted of us in the Virginia Living and Andra Family Albums.
Amanda has been a little stressed with finals coming this week.  So there has been a juggling act of sorts here at the Ross apartment.  I put my first application in for law school last night.  We we start the mad rush of applications and then the hurry up and wait game.  I guess I better start putting some more effort into securing employment after the new year.
In other news, I received a message from the detective for mother’s case.  I very much appreciate his goodness and comments.  I did have a few questions to ask of him and I hope he will respond.  Perhaps we can put to rest a few questions I have had lingering over these years.

Berkeley and Shirley

In introducing the new photos just uploaded, Amanda and I decided to take a trip a bit off the beaten path and stop at Berkeley and Shirley Plantations.  Both of them hold significance in the history of America.  Just because back then many of the noble families intermarried among each other there are numerous links to various known families.
Berkeley Plantation was also known as Harrison Landing.  It is here at Harrison Landing the ship landed in 1619 having come from England.  According to the dictates of those who sent them, when they reached the shore, they were to drop and give Thanksgiving for having made it safely.  It is also here at Berkeley that Bourbon Whiskey was first made by a Priest.  The other notable first for Berkeley is “Taps” was written there in about 1862.  It is named after Richard Berkeley.  After the Berkeley Hundred was abandoned after an Indian massacre the home was taken over by the Harrison Family in the 1630’s.  It was through this Harrison line that Benjamin Harrison was born, the signer of the Declaration of Independence.  He is buried in the graveyard.  Interesting to note, the first 10 Presidents of the United States were entertained and stayed at Berkeley Plantation.  It just happens the 9th President, William Henry Harrison, was born at Berkeley.  It was in the same room he was born that he wrote his inauguration speech.  The one in which he gave despite the weather to prove he was not too old to be President.  He caught cold and died about 30 days into his Presidency.  The shortest Presidency still, the first President to die in office, and he was for almost 150 years the oldest President to be elected to office.  It was his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, who would become our 23rd President (during whose term Idaho became a state).  During the Civil War McClellan camped 140,000 troops here.  During this time President Lincoln visited and entered the home.  It was in these camps ‘Taps” was written.  Anyhow, Berkeley was very interesting to visit.  It was a cold day so there were few visitors.  The lady selling tickets saw my Zion’s card in paying and asked where were were from.  She taught English for many years at Mountain View and has moved to Virginia, where she was born.  Small world isn’t it?
Shirley Plantation is not far up the road.  It is part of what was the Shirley Hundred.  It claims to be the oldest plantation in America (1622) and the oldest family owned business.  The Shirley’s who were given the Shirley Hundred were on their way to Virginia when Mr. Shirley died in the Azores on the way over.  The rest of the family went home not wanting to venture to the wilderness without him.  The property was sold and the Hill’s acquired.  After a generation or two the Hill’s had no male heirs so it went through the daughter who married a Carter.  It is through this Carter line Anne Carter was born, mother of Robert Edward Lee.  Robert was raised here, but he certainly spent a good deal of time there growing up and receiving some of his schooling in this house.  During the Civil War the Plantation became a place where the Union Troops placed their injured after the Malvern Hill battles.  Those at Shirley Plantation went out to tend and take care of the injured soldiers and earned the respect of General McClellan.  In return for their efforts he assigned soldiers to protect the home from being burned and pillaged as many other homes were during the Civil War.  Today, descendants of the Carter’s (and Hill’s) still live in the home making it the 11th or 12th generation.  That possibly of itself makes it the longest family owned home in America.
There was some definitely instructive and pleasing things learned at Berkeley and Shirley.  They were fascinating really.

Monday, Monday

I remember a time with my Mission President, President Stucki gave a talk on constant perfection.  He made a comment that if we ever felt like we were comfortable, like we had things figured out, like we could sit back and relax it was a great sign we needed to rise up and repent.  Life is a process of constant repentance through improvement and progression.  Somehow I have really taken the counsel to heart and don’t like to feel comfortable.  There is always more to do, someone else’s life to bless, some work needing to be done.
My weeks of late have been filled with a whole host of events.  Tuesday nights finds me at the Family History Library.  I have been spending about a week an evening out with the missionaries.  The Home Teaching list with 6 families requires diligent effort, coordinating with the schedule of my 14 year old companion, and hoping some of them might come around.  There are two widows in the ward whose family history I am inputting on the computer and preparing for temple work.  That requires constant updating and exchanging of information ever week at church.  Preparing and teaching the Family History Class on Sunday.  I go visiting with President Hahn usually about once a week for the Elder’s Quorum Presidency.  Last week I gave a talk in church on Family History.  Tomorrow and Saturday we are preparing chili for the ward and work chili cook-off.  Creating a couple gallons of white chili takes hours in itself.  Chopping up those four huge onions kept my eyes watering for several hours.  A black tie event tomorrow night, costume party Saturday night, Squash on Monday nights.  I don’t feel like I have much time lately.  But I feel very fulfilled with my life at the moment.  I hope someday my life will be remembered like that of President Kimball (whose biography I finished earlier this month) where his life was like an old shoe, worn out in the service of others.
Amanda and I attended a wedding last Saturday and because the weeks have been so busy we had to run to the temple afterwards and come back that same evening.  The week before Amanda spent the whole weekend in Grundy.  The week before was General Conference, which was fantastic I might add.
Work has continually picked up and I am feeling like I have a pretty good grasp on the work and what is required.  I think I may have actually gone a day or two where I did not have to ask a question of a co-worker.  Then today the bombshell came.  Bank of America is doing away with the entire Wholesale Channel.  December 31st will be the last day of Wholesale’s existence.  Meaning, I am without employment January 1st.  Sure, I get a month’s pay for severance.  But hey, I just got hired on!  I started as an official Bank of America employee on October first after four months as a contractor.  Now on January 1st, I am starting over.  Geez, I will have spent more time as a contractor at Bank of America than as an actual associate.  What does the employment world hold for me next?  Will I find another position in Bank of America?  Will I stay in the mortgage industry?  Where will I work for the remaining 6 months I am in Richmond, Virginia?  At any rate, I have the next three months to find a new job.  (Two months at Bank of America, one month’s severance).  My Monday at work was just about to close since I had gone through the rough tumble of learning the in and out of a new job.  Now I get to start all over!
We have decided to take a trip to Europe in June of next year.  We are thinking of spending 3 weeks in Britain and 3 weeks in Northwestern Europe.  We would probably spend 2 weeks in the old mission visiting and staying with people, another week touring parts of Britain, then three weeks with Belgium as our home base.  Our friends James and Catherine Cazier have invited us over and we will probably crash with them at their home in Belgium.  So much of northwestern Europe is within a few hours of there.  I hope to quell Amanda’s desire to live in Paris and we both hope to see much of the storied lands.  I think we will have to skip Germany this time around since there are so many places I would like to personally visit for family history purposes (not for research, just to visit).  Amanda’s goal is to earn the money to pay for the tickets to Europe and then I will pay for the rest.  However, we will have to see how the trip looks as we get closer.  Hopefully we won’t miss a beat in preparing to meet our bills while away on vacation for 6 weeks and pay for the trip itself and then the move to wherever we will move for Law School.  So much depends on my finding a good, new job.  Hopefully not at a lower salary than the one I was earning with Bank of America.
For those who asked if I am still thinking about attending law school in England, the answer is no.  I had an answer to prayer that made it plainly manifest I was not to attend law school in England.  Despite the heartbreak it brought, there was a certain relief at not having to try and figure out the ramifications of attempting to do so.  We also found out that Amanda would find it virtually impossible to work in the UK as a hygienist.  Basically the UK now says no to any hygienist unless they are a EU citizen.  To qualify she would basically have to take half of her schooling over again and the cost would be too prohibitive.  One would think that a country where citizens pull their own teeth for a lack of dentists would openly welcome hygienists and dentists to immigrate.  Classic socialistic medicine at work!
Well, time to shut down.  I have to get up in the morning for a company that doesn’t want me anymore.  There is incentive to do a good job!  Talk about moral hazard temptations abounding all over the place.  Why should I care if I do a good job since there will certainly be no rewards.  What are they going to do?  Fire me.  Wait, they already are.  My incentive is not to care so much since job performance means nothing.  Who cares about customer satisfaction?  It will be a tough walk for all those involved.  Should I take my sick days while I can, even though I am not sick?  What about those paid vacation days I have accrued, use them all, now?  How much time should I dedicate to finding a new job?  It will be a temptation minefield to remain integrity, honesty, and dedication to the company who feels in most senses to have turned against us.  To remain proactive and pushing forward where there are very few incentives will be difficult.
What does the future hold now?  I haven’t had much time to relax and think I am content lately.  The next few months will probably hold even fewer.  The table now has to include job hunting.  I haven’t even completed writing the personal statement and applying to law school (which has some large costs as well, although Amanda tells me I can’t apply to California schools now).

Farewell to Terry

 

Yesterday early afternoon I received a phone call to notify me of the death of a dear friend.  There is always an interesting surge of emotions with the death of a person, especially one you feel such a kinship with.  Somehow though, I couldn’t help but feel a total sense of relief and release.

Terry McCombs was born in Rupert, Idaho and grew up on the farm outside of Rupert.  He graduated from Minico in probably its most notable time.  He went to school when Minico was known nationally for its band program.  The high school was still under 10 years old and Southern Idaho was in the Post-war boom.  Some of his mentors both in choir and band were to forever influence his life.  There was something about the farm soil and the passion of music that set Terry on his future.

I met Terry for the first time in 1997.  I had been asked to accompany a friend, Elena McBride, on the piano for a vocal number she was doing.  She wanted me to meet her vocal coach, Terry McCombs.  There was a McComb’s in my grade who I knew and one just younger who was in choir and who I knew more through friends.  These both turned out to be Terry’s niece’s.  Our meeting took place in Terry’s childhood home where his mother still lived with Terry’s brother’s family.  We sat there at the piano and I played perhaps a few chords when Terry asked me if I sang.  I confessed that I had no singing talent whatsoever and had never really tried.  He took over at the piano bench and then began to have me try a few exercises.  He attempted for hours to get beyond my modesty (my attempt to cover a poor voice).  After several hours, Elena’s lesson turned into an reworking of my thinking concerning singing.  For the most part of which he was very successful at rewiring.  Afterward I remember Elena being upset that her lesson was all about a lesson for me.

Terry had me commit to come to a lesson with him in a studio apartment he was using within about a mile from his home.  It was a little bedroom in the loft and a little living room below with a couch and piano.  I seem to remember a small kitchen and bathroom in the entry level.  We descended into the little living room about a week later and he sat on the couch and I sat in the chair.  Terry always had it a bit on the cool side but it definitely was cozy.  He then spent about an hour teaching me the doctrine of singing.  I remember him offering a prayer that seemed to turn my heart to complete mush.  I was so overwhelmed at such a powerful experience.  Coming from an inactive LDS home, I had no real clue what it was I was experiencing.  I had prayed before, and even seen prayers answered, but never had I experienced what I did that day.  Heaven literally descended and engulfed us that day.

After teaching me on the doctrines of the restoration of all things and of singing he then went on to teach me what he knew and how he knew it.  He bore powerful testimony of what it was he was teaching that day.  I remember openly weeping for the joy that engulfed my heart and how I recognized my life changing before my very eyes.  My very nature was changing in that room.  We then went to the piano and he began to unravel to me some of my physical nature.  I admit I understood more the nature of my throat, singing, and of life then than at any point in my life, probably even since.  It was interesting how he always framed everything with a view for eternity and the building of Zion.

What came from my mouth, from my very heart, was so beautiful we both wept.  Terry sang a song for me that even today haunts me with how beautiful it was.  He then sang a song from Rigoletto that was simply amazing.  He sat at the piano and I sang a song that day which I have not been able to sing since.  It haunts me how beautifully I sang and it kills me I have not been able to sing like that since.  There was such an outpouring of the Spirit.  I do not know if I can ever share what happened that day.  The gifts of the Spirit were present and angels ministered to us.

We met many, many times again in that little elevator to the heavens.  Sadly, I don’t know what happened after a couple of months.  Whether it was my pride or influences in his life, but it began to falter.  We started meeting again in his parents house and doing lessons there which were interrupted and never of much value.  We then started meeting in his home, the old out garage converted into a studio/living room connected to a trailer.  It was never quite the same.  I really don’t know why to this day.

My Senior year at Minico brought the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  I don’t remember how many lessons before the play I had with Terry but I had such a zeal with singing now I auditioned for the play.  I had been singing in the choir now for a little while.  I totally bombed the audition but somehow I was still put in as one of the brother’s.  Honestly, I did so poorly I didn’t know if they would let me even be a dancer.  That is how badly I auditioned vocally.  I could never translate how I could sing in lessons to doing it in front of other people.  I was terrible when anyone else listened.  Even the State Solo Competition I sang for and did so poorly I didn’t even finish the song.  The choir helped me some.  Good thing it was an open class.

Terry helped a number of us quite a bit with our singing for that play.  I improved considerably under Terry but never could find the voice I had in our lessons on stage.  It drove me completely crazy to know how heavenly it could be and it just never translated outside the studio.  Our lessons continued and I learned a great deal.  We continued to cover the history of music and the mechanics of the voice.  All of which I still feel like I have a pretty good handle since I was learning them from a spiritual perspective.

Minico ended and my whole life had now become engulfed in music.  I had my musical training from band all the way from 6th grade.  I could read and understood basics of music.  I had taught myself a half dozen new instruments in high school and I wrapped up high school putting on finishing touches to play the piano in the mission and learning the master the voice.

I went to Utah State knowing how much I loved music but I would not be pursuing a degree in anything related to it.  It was completely my hobby.  I went home at least every couple of weeks.  Due to situations at home I would either stay with my Grandma or I would stay with Terry.  We often spent all Friday night in a lesson.  It was something about the two of us that somehow we connected and heaven was with us.  I don’t know if he had these experiences with others.  I know he had in the past but I sensed it wasn’t happening with others at the time.  He often expressed his frustration with me at how he wished others wanted to learn just for the sake of learning rather than trying to do it for publicity, pride, or money.  He knew I had nothing to pay him and I wasn’t about to ask my parents for more money since they were helping me through school.  I think that is one thing that changed later.  When his situation got a bit more desperate and he needed money I had nothing to offer and he was required to spend his time teaching paying students.

The time came for the mission and I was prepared.  My own research and experience on my own time had gained me many experiences with the Spirit.  I had come to gain a personal testimony of the Bible, Book of Mormon, Prophets and Apostles, Priesthood, and a bunch more.  I think one thing that was unique is that Terry had opened me up to a very different side of religion.  It wasn’t just the knowledge of it or doctrines, but it was the personal experiences with it.  Through college our lessons moved from the vocal aspects to mostly discussing religion and sharing experiences.  I had obtained many new experiences with heaven and Terry had a wealth of them to share as well.  I think many thought I was a bit crazy with how literally I was experiencing my associations with the other side of the veil but Terry always understood.  I remember my Grandma would get so excited when I told her about some of the experiences.  She would tell me of some of her own.  Mom I instantly recognized was out to kill or denounce anything of which I was experiencing.  She quickly would tell me how it was a cult and I was being brainwashed.  When I would confront her about how literally some of my experiences were she would chalk it up to hallucinating or something else.  Terry and Grandma were two who understood.

It was such an interesting road.  My roommates at college I don’t think knew how to take what was happening.  Some were very understanding at the beginning, others finally warmed to it.  By the end of the school year at Utah State we had all experienced some things together.  The turmoil and emotions of the year were difficult with my parents divorcing and the changing face in so many relations.  The roommates weathered all those and were very understanding.  But the thing I remember most is the little spiritual times I had with each of them and interestingly have bonded each of us together since.  All four of them we continue to feel very closely united even despite distance and time.

Terry offered to have someone provide the musical number for the mission farewell.  He did and I was very grateful.  Surprisingly, he offered some money to help pay for the mission that makes me blush that he would give it to me.  He never wrote a letter, I don’t think I ever wrote him a letter during those two years, but we had communication.  I remember one night I had a dream of a phone call to Terry while I served in Eccles.  It was after my Grandmother had passed away.  We chatted about a few things and I told him of my experiences with Grandma after she passed away.  He told me of some of the experiences he had with his own father after he passed away.  It helped confirm what I was experiencing.  In the dream he told me to get a copy of Parley P Pratt’s Autobiography and to read it.  After I returned home from the mission and had been home a few weeks, Terry called me.  What I had totally passed off as a powerfully spiritual dream came very close to home when he asked if I enjoyed Brother Pratt’s book.  That is just the way Terry was.

Terry asked me to come to visit him in Branson, Missouri after I returned from the mission.  I went to visit him in a heartbeat.  Terry wanted to start lessons again and asked me to move to Branson.  I went back home and made arrangements and headed out for Missouri.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience.  I thoroughly loved my time while I was there.  He mentioned that I was there for two purposes: To learn to love in a way unselfishly and to gain some great experience to carry me throughout my life.  He proved to be very prophetic on both accounts.  I learned to love in several ways which hurt terribly.  I definitely learned some lessons there.  I learned some valuable lessons in management, the corporate world, missionary work outside the mission, and family history.

Terry and I both lived under the same roof with several other families the first year I was there.  It turned to be a very wonderful experience.  I had three families I could call my own in the same house.  Each of them taught me some very important lessons.  Without going into details, it proved to be a time I still find myself thankful for in prayer.

I remember one night I had a dream where I had a dream in answer to a prayer.  I woke up afterwards and immediately went to knock on Terry’s door.  At 3:00 AM in the morning I recounted to him my experience and we both wept for joy.  He shared with me an experience where one of his prayers had been answered by dream just nights before.  This was the type of connection I had with Terry.

Interestingly, it is how merciful heaven is in dealing with us.  Terry definitely had a personality.  Some characteristics I will openly admit drove me crazy.  His little antics sometimes were detestable at how he treated others.  Even me a couple of times.  At other times I could not help but feel sorry for him with the struggles he had on so many fronts.  He had a temper.  He had his bias nature.  He had all his imperfections.  He was not a physically beautiful man by any real means.  However, his heart was something different.  I sat in on many lessons and it was interesting how completely different some of them were.  Some of them it seemed he was trying to impress them so he could gain their trust.  Some it seemed he had to debase himself to get the heart.  Others it appeared he had to bully them.  Every lesson was very different.  I never understood if he was catering to the personality of each or what it was.  My lessons were very direct, even almost unspoken at times.  It was not uncommon for a look to communicate everything.

When it came time for my leaving Branson, we both knew.  I only saw Terry a couple of times after that.  In fact, I think it was only twice after.  Once was in Utah and the last time was a year ago as Amanda and I drove on our way to Virginia.  We stopped and spent several hours with him.

I spoke with him on the phone for over an hour just a month or so ago and he was in good spirits.  It was with a bit of shock I received the phone call telling me he had passed the night before.  Somehow though, it seems like it would be the way Terry would do it though.  My first reaction was that little scoundrel did this on purpose.  But then I sensed a peace about the whole thing and it was meant to be.

In looking back, Terry always introduced me to people as the one with a pure soul.  I don’t know if it is true or not, but I always wanted to be a little better with that title.  Terry always had people who either loved or hated him.  People somehow switched those sides often with him.  I never understood why.  But something about the man endeared people and also brought on some of the strongest criticism.  But in the end he usually weathered it well.

I haven’t had any experiences with Terry spiritually for a couple of years now.  Perhaps we just grew apart.  But now that he has passed, I anticipate something small, at least for a temporary good bye.  If not, this is my little pushing off the ship of a good friend.  I will see you later mate.  I love your soul.

Tooth Saga, Episode 3

Today’s visit to the dentist was rather uneventful.  Something for which I am grateful.  The last few visits were memorable enough I found the dentist joking with the assistants in an inside joke sort of way.  Nice to know I may have made some of the office lore.
Today’s visit was pretty simple.  Remove the temporary filling once again and prepare the tooth for the crown.  The numbing of the tooth went pretty much as it is supposed to.  He only gave me one shot today.  Even though the outside of my jaw was still mostly in contact with my brain, I wasn’t about to take another chance of him hitting the nerve again.  In the end it didn’t hurt too bad, it was just the pulling of the gum away from the tooth and cauterizing it that was a bit painful, but I didn’t go white knuckled.
I did not appreciate the time the material was in my mouth for the impression.  I didn’t realize it, but I was drooling down the side of my cheek while Dr. Spitzer chatted about what the purpose is of the different military bases in Virginia.  I did not notice until I felt it running down my neck and then tried to wipe myself up with my little bib.
He visited with me about Germany and where best to find authentic German food here near Richmond.  Apparently the best place is out north of Charlottesville at some little place called The Bavarian Chef.  Perhaps we will have to celebrate when I have the crown and I need not worry about any more dental work.  On second though, maybe we better save our cash in order to pay for the long series of dental visits.  It is conforting to know my money will go to a worthwhile cause for the dentist; helping to pay for his Mercedes.  While dwelling on I will consider the feeling of gums trying to recuperate from being ripped away from the side of the tooth.

Rolling Along

The inevitable finally came.  Amanda and I overcame one of the only sources of tension in our relationships.  Getting places early.  It also helped remove the other problem, getting places.
With Amanda in school and soon to be traveling to different areas required for school we both knew she would need the car.  So I had the option of being dropped off at work at 6:00 AM and leaving work at about 6:00 PM or of purchasing another vehicle.  As much as I enjoy overtime, I am not sure work would allow me that much and I would probably spend a considerable amount of time at work probably for free.  Or I guess reading a book or something else which would look highly suspicious doing at work.
On top of that, the one thing I almost cannot stand is being late.  Add into the equation a female and somehow 15 minutes early for me turns into 15 minutes late.  After vowing to leave her from now on, we decided this was an alternative to the times I arrive at church so flaming mad I don’t even want to be there.
We figured to rent a moving truck to move back across the country would cost about $2500-$3000.  That is just the rent, not including the fuel of the drive.  Plus we would be limited to driving pretty much straight to our destination.  We could have a moving company move all our furniture for us for another grand or so more.  The other alternative was to make an investment in a vehicle we could use to move and we could then keep our money rather than throw it at renting or paying movers.  So we set our eyes to looking for a little pickup that was under $5000.
This little pickup fell into our presence through Craig’s List.  For $3500 it was quite the steal.  He told us flat out he just wanted to sell it and that is why he dropped the price some below Kelly Blue Book.  I didn’t complain.  Took it for a spin, liked the truck and we shook hands.  Next thing I knew we met a week or two later and we shook hands and exchanged a check for a title.  Take a picture at the truck in the Virginia Living album.
I insured it Monday night, the day before we purchased it.  Today it was registered and I put the new plates on it.  We are now ready to roll.
I do have a few things I want to have checked by the local Ford dealership, but otherwise I am pleased with the newest addition to our family.