Last Week’s Good Things

weekoOver the last couple weeks, I have glimpsed the reality that my life is going to be returning to its old normal where my work schedule is a little less high intensity. Looking back at last week’s noted good things, I appreciate that change and what it has brought back!

A day with no meetings and head for home at 5:00 – Last Monday, for the first time in months, I had no scheduled meetings on my calendar. I spent the day in my office, working on a multitude of things that continued to fill up my to do list while I wasn’t looking. During the day, I talked to people as they stopped by my office with questions or just to chat. I had lunch at lunch time. I left my office and got home before 6:00! There was something about that day that felt like a new beginning. The things that have been going on at work since early spring have been exciting and stressful and educational and fulfilling. However, to be finished with the bulk of those and be able to end the year catching up and preparing for 2015 seems lovely!

Great meal at Story – We celebrated a friend’s birthday last Sunday with a meal out at the wonderful Story in Prairie Village. I like good food and I like a good experience. The food part that night was top notch. They really seem to continue to get better and better. For me, the other, as important element of a good experience is when I feel that the server is taking time with the table that isn’t just because they have to. They seem to enjoy getting to know and make the table experience a good one. Our server, Kevin did just that. From the moment I sat down and he made his first appearance, I could tell this was going to be good. He was self-deprecating, knowledgeable, interested and interesting. He made what was an amazingly good food experience, an amazingly good dining experience. The thing is, this was a fancy restaurant where we spent a lot of money. I have had the same thing happen at much different venues. It doesn’t matter where it is. Showing me that enthusiasm makes its mark!

Hearing Rebecca Skloot Speak – When The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks came out a few years ago, I purchased it immediately. Rebecca Skloot had written a story of a woman who died of cancer, but who lives eternally because her cancer cells had a unique quality of being able to be grown in the laboratory – over and over again. This is a great story and by the number of books sold, it obviously is a story that other people want to read. Beyond being a good read, what this book was for me was validation that a medical story that weaves several different threads, can be fascinating. As I worked on my own weaving project, that was inspiring. Last week, I went to hear Rebecca give a talk at a local university. She was better than I even thought she would be. Coming out to begin her talk, she expressed her thanks for people being there and their support. Throughout her talk, she made a point to address the students in the audience. Her grace was present throughout a wonderful event.

Frank Bruni column “Gray hair and silver linings”Frank Bruni is one of my newspaper loves. Frank is a columnist for the New York Times and his columns are so often personal experiences that resonate with some larger issue. Last week he had a column titled Gray Hair and Silver Linings. The column starts out with him sitting in a waiting room and observing a woman and man getting to know each other over their battle scars of areas of skin cancer. He then goes on to discuss what it is to grow older – to enter a new phase of your life when experiences are not all new. It is an adjustment and it does not come without its regret. He brings it back to where I feel that I am now as a 54 year old woman. He writes: as you age “you finally appreciate the wisdom of  doing so and you come to recognize that among multiple vantage points and arrays of responses to a situation, you really can elect the more positive one.” That is a silver lining.

Saturday non-snow day – We had nothing to do on Saturday, and the weather forecast indicated that we might have some rough patches of weather. That gave us an excuse to stay in. Our staying in, however, did not mean we created our weekend Wunderlist of things to do. This was our serendipity free day. We didn’t tackle projects. I pretty much spent the whole day reading, taking a nap or two, and reading some more.

We are already half-way through a new week! Wow! I hope that there are many things already on your own good things list!

1989 by Taylor Swift (Album of the Week)

Taylor-Swift-1989-Deluxe-2014-1200x1200-615562Album: 1989

Artist: Taylor Swift

Year: 2014

About: 13 songs; 49 minutes

These are things that I know after multiple listens of Taylor Swift’s 1989 – Taylor Swift has red lips, rosy cheeks, and cute dresses. However, a week listening to Taylor Swift has still not convinced me that I could listen to Top 40 Radio (is that still a thing?) and accurately pick out a song of hers. That is the harshest thing that you will read from me this week. Taylor Swift has a good voice. She is masterful in her brand. It is impressive that this – her first true “pop” album – is again filled with songs that she has written. She gives us Taylor – girl and her guitar -writing songs; telling her story. This time, however, the story is a little more grown up and poppy.

There’s no way that I can say that this album didn’t do it for me. She had me singing along with her and wondering which boy she was talking about in the different songs. Dan writes in his blog about all of the references that other reviewers have called attention to and which he cares not to understand. I am a little more voyeuristic in my pop culture persona and am willing to read the gossip between the lines. It is true, however, that the themes of the songs don’t need Cliff Notes in order to understand what she is talking about. She’s a cute twenty-something living the life.

When she sings “he’s tall and handsome as hell” you know exactly that mood and time she is singing from. In that same song, Wildest Dreams she breathily sings:

Say you’ll remember me

Standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset, babe

Red lips and rosy cheeks

Say you’ll see me again even if it’s just in your wildest dreams

Picture perfect end of a bad relationship as brought to you by TS.

Wildest Dreams is one of the slower songs on this 13 track album. Most of the other songs are much more classic pop. Blank Space is just fun in its clever call out to start a relationship that is bound to end badly. She loves the players and he loves the game.

Shake it Off – the first release with a video – is her response to so many naysayers hating on her and her just shaking those jerks off. It is pretty charming when she sings “I go on too many dates” which she follows with a giggle. How can you not appreciate her willingness to laugh at what certainly must at other times be completely annoying? Her celebrity life means an inability to do anything without anyone else’s willingness to voice a public opinion about her private life.

1989 was my entry into Taylor Swift world and it was fun. I hope that the Taylor she puts out there is who she really is – beyond the red lips and cute dresses, a performer of note.

Next up: RTJ2, by Run the Jewels

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Everything’s Going to be Alright by Weezer (Album of the Week)

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Album: Everything’s Going to be Alright in the End

Artist: Weezer

Year: 2014

About: 13 songs; 43 minutes

Choice: DJR Blogging

They are probably best known for an alt/punk-rock song released in the 1990s about unraveling a sweater. We are talking about twenty years here, and there is remarkably little difference in the sound that Weezer put out on their first album and what they have done this year. The style of the songs on Everything Will be Alright in the End are a good throwback to what Weezer in my head memory box sounded like. Rik Ocasek from The Cars produced that first album and he returns for this one. This is a reunion that can put your ears into a kind of wayback machine.

Dan loves this album for the guitar, bass and drums. He writes over on DJRBlogging about ignoring some of the inside story of the album to focus on what is going on with the instruments. We are pretty much on the same wavelength with this one.

Weezer has been making music continually since their 1994 breakout album, Weezer (The Blue Album)(not to be confused with the Red album or Green album that showed up afterwards). I liked the fun of that first album – The Sweater Song, Buddy Holly, and, my favorite, Only in Dreams. In between Blue and their most recent album, I don’t remember much other than Hash Pipe. That probably has much to do with my listening habits that eschews the radio in favor of creating my own listening compilations. From what I have read about their musical journey during these twenty years, however, I may have made an okay choice to wait for this album. The musical journey that the band has taken has not been a consistent one. I very much appreciate bands doing that, but for a not-huge fan, that allows people like myself to lose touch with them.

Rivers Cuomo has always been an interesting dude. Right after the Blue Album he enrolled at Harvard and began a college career that lasted about ten years before he graduated with honors. He is on record about choosing celibacy before marriage, and other less than traditional lifestyle choices.

From a little that I have read, the songs on this album can be categorized into three areas. I have not been doing a lot of analysis to find those, but it is obvious that there is lots of looking back and trying to figure things out here. The format for telling about that introspection, however, is electric guitaring tracks that sometimes open up into classic rock and roll blastoffs! The last three tracks of the album, I. Wasteland, II. Anonymous, and III. Return to Ithaka are almost vocal-less and made me think of a rock opera like Tommy. I like that these pieces were added to an otherwise catchy vocal laden album.

The band released the track, Back to the Shack, months before the album was released. Anyone listening would hear an apology to fans for getting off course and a resolve to get back to their roots in 1994. They make it happen with the full album release.

The songs that aren’t the real jammy ones, could be taken from 1960s pop bands. I hear that in Lonely Girl where there are accompanying background to River’s crooning “I’m Lonely, so lonely” that make me think Herman’s Hermits. He also brings in one of my faves, Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast, for Go Away that is blissy 1960s surf rock.

Listening to this album this week, I kept thinking that I had heard a lot of the songs before. That gives you a hint as to what to expect. I was fine with it and enjoyed the listen.

Next up: Taylor Swift 1989

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Last Week’s Good Things

weekI’ve noticed that many people are using the month of November – the month of Thanksgiving – to post a daily gratitude on Facebook. That is a really nice practice and one that really is a good personal exercise to pay attention. That has always been the intent of this “weekly” posting of my good things. When I don’t post good things, I am still trying to note them in my book. Even that, I don’t do as well as I should. The goal will always be to do better, because whether I am paying attention or not, there is a bunch of good stuff around.

Here are a few of mine that are nice to remember:

royalWatching the Royals from afar – I probably have talked about the Royals more than any other sports team I have written about in the past or in the future (this would be a different story if I was 12 year old me – passionate about the Buffalo Sabres). When the Royals made it to the World Series, love from around the country started to show up in social media. It was great to see friends, friends of friends, and perfect strangers lining up behind the fun ride that the Royals gave us. Probably the sweetest example of this for me was to see Sam and Jean sitting around with other Kansas City fans in an apartment in New York City watching the game – many in Royals regalia. Because of Facebook and Instagram, I got to see that as it happened. That made me happy.

06.RamHanuSitaRainReflectSita Sings the Blues - One of my co-workers shared a copy of a DVD of an animated film called Sita Sings the Blues with me. On my day off, I watched this awesomeness while I was  trying to get some other things done. Man! It was hard to get anything else done, because this is so good. It is really hard to capsulize this, but it is the film-makers retelling of  an Indian legend of Ramayama. The story leaps back and forth between a modern couple’s troubles and the legend of another troubled relationship. In the background, and incongruous, but surprisingly working soundtrack of Annette Hanshaw, a 1920s jazz singer, plays on. It sounds bizarre, and it is. It is also sparklingly beautiful with the colors of India drawn in exaggerated 2-D fashion. Once I had finished, I needed more, so I watched the film maker’s interview. It turns out, there is much more to the story dealing with the rights behind using the music. It is a great story in itself.

nutBoulevard Nutcracker – This is the time of year that Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City releases one of my favorite beers : Nutcracker Ale. It is a full flavored winter specialty ale that is fragrant and warm and delicious. Saturday, while preparing for a little gathering at our house, Dan came home from the store with a six-pack of the newly released 2014 Nutcracker Ale. Cheers!

Oil Pulling – This may be a weird one, but I want to put it out there in case someone may be interested, because it really has been a good thing for me. Oil pulling is a routine of rinsing your mouth with a natural oil for a period of about 15-20 minutes. The technique is an ancient one that has found a new following in the natural healing movement. I had never heard about it, but when I was talking with a friend about my continuing mouth issues, she mentioned this. The thought behind the practice is that it picks up and removes a lot of the nasties hiding out in your mouth. My experiment of trying this for about a week has been positive. My issues aren’t gone, but between this and my other routine, I am feeling like I am at least holding steady.

fallWalking in Fall Leaves – I probably have noted this one before, but walking through beautifully colored autumn leaves that have fallen and are covering the sidewalks is one of my favorite things! I have been able to enjoy that a bunch lately.

Keep looking for your good things; I will too.

Hozier by Hozier (Album of the Week)

Hozier-album-cover-Raine-final-boost-1024x1024Album: Hozier

Artist: Hozier

Year: 2014

About: 13 songs; 54 minutes

Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

I heard it, but I couldn’t place it. It sounded like old Elton John – Madmen Across the Water and Captain Fantastic Elton John. Like it has a lot of people, Hozier’s chorus on Take Me to Church caught me. Before hearing that chorus on a commercial, I had never heard of this Irish fellow. I did some googling to track down that song, and then, I chose this as our album of the week. Good move, me!

That flash of Elton John doesn’t really show up beyond that first track. However, there are other influences throughout the album that he mines and makes his own. Dan agrees that what Hozier is doing is hard to categorize, but he too is captured by this musician’s range of talent. I might categorize what he does as blue-eyed soul, but he spreads himself widely over the 13 songs on the album. His lyrics are undertakings of imagery, and he says that he is inspired by writers like James Joyce. It can be dark. There are lots of graves dug, dirt, and bodies. One of my favorite songs, Jackie and Wilson, has a jaunty R&B vibe that at first blush seems like a sweet relationship ditty, but, oh, no. By the end of the song, it is clear there will be no children named Jackie and Wilson raised on rhythm and blues that will come out of that relationship.

In that same song he sings:

Cause with my mid-youth crisis all said and done/ I need to be youthfully felt ’cause, God, I never felt young

He is 24, but his nature seems older – a little weary, a little broken. Kind of your classic Irish fellow.

Interestingly, I read that though he grew up in Ireland with Irish-Catholic parents, he and his siblings were raised Quaker. The theme of justice versus injustice has obvious importance to him.  It is most apparent in Take Me to Church which decries the wrongness of denying acceptance of love of all kinds. The video of the song is strong stuff.

The arrangements on each of the songs add to the strength of this album. He plays a sweet guitar, and he brings in background vocalists that can sound gospel choiry or folksy. There is a fullness to the songs that is really beautiful. Even the simple Cherry Wine is made complete with a background of bird song.

Listening to this album this week, more than most music I listen to, I wanted to look into the future and see what comes out of Hozier next. Obviously his career is now taking off. He played at SXSW, was the musical guest on SNL recently, and Taylor Swift tweeted a picture of herself at one of his concerts. What will fame do to his work? Will he pick a niche and go with it, or will he continue to explore like he seems to be doing now? I hope the latter.

I loved this album – wholeheartedly, and even though Dan may think that I wish for more of that Elton sound, I like it just the way it is!

Next Up: Time for Good Behavior by Weezer

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Art Official Age by Prince (Album of the Week)

prince-art-official-age-500x500Album: Art Official Age

Artist: Prince

Year: 2014

Details: 13 songs; 54 minutes

Who’s Choice: Gone Mild

On his new album, Art Official Age, Prince perfects the conceit (word chosen intentionally) that makes me get irritated with a lot of performance jazz. Prince gets a song going, and he gets me hooked. There is a funky beat that I like, and he combines it with lyrics that work so well. But then, he can’t let it come to a natural conclusion. He goes on way too long with what often sounds to me like self-indulgent hooey.

The long song is not a new thing for Prince. Looking back at his other albums in my library (and I have quite a few, because I do like Prince), the length of songs on his new album isn’t an anomaly. It is, however, easier to forgive a five minute plus Little Red Corvette, than it is a song where part of it is modified to make it sound like the Chipmunks are performing.

Even if I put aside the stuff that is vocally modified, there are those sections  of this album where a woman is talking to a man who is waking up in a new world after a long period of unconsciousness. On other tracks, she guides him through new world affirmations. Why, Prince, why? Is anyone enjoying that?

The whole album isn’t like that. We have a song like Breakdown which is luxurious Prince falsetto backed by lovely orchestration. Throughout the album, there appear Princely female vocals that I love (he does have the best female backups!). There are the typical “hey baby” songs with the panting and oohing and ahhing, and lines like “you know you want me like a new pair of shoes.” That is Prince being Prince and there is always a place in my ear for some of that. For many of the other songs that I don’t like as much, if he just made a cut a minute or so earlier, I would be a happier listener on this one, and not giving over to eye-rolling.

I have tried not to talk to Dan too much about this, but without reading his review, I figured that he was going to come at this by favorably comparing what Prince is doing on this album with what Damien Jurado tried to do in his concept album. I liked that album for weaving a story line through the tracks; Dan hated it. As it turns out, Dan left Damien out of his review and just concentrated on his appreciation for what Prince is bringing on this album.  I can totally appreciate that. Of course, Prince can do whatever he wants with his album. He is an artist. He has an idea here. I am not sure, though, if he is having fun with it or creating a performance piece. For me, he made me want to leave this one and return to 1999 or the Purple Rain soundtrack. There are sounds on Art Official that are the classic Prince sound, but going back to his old ones will give you the sound without the rest.

Next up: Hozier by Hozier

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Good Things Recently

journalI am not going to pretend that this will be a timestamped archive of a particular period of good thing tracking. When I look at my calendar and see that next week will end the month of October, I am busted! I have let another month get by without really getting my act together. Sure, I have excuses, but none of them really amount to anything insurmountable.

But, I have collected some items that I would like to take some minutes to write about and remember. They reflect some of the last few weeks good things. I hope that as the days have gotten shorter, the trees have taken on brilliant colors, and World Series fever has come to a city that wondered if it ever would again – your days and weeks have brought many of your own good things!

YayA Little Road Trip to Celebrate a New Job

Dan has a new job helping a wonderful agency bring in dollars. The mission is one that means a great deal to him, and it means some very positive lifestyle changes that we are both incredibly happy about. To celebrate, we went to destination location, Bentonville, Arkansas! Seriously, it was a fantastic weekend road trip that we have wanted to do for a while. The attraction is an amazing art museum that is courtesy of one of the WalMart heirs. I am not a WalMart fan, but I am sure a fan of Crystal Bridges. This lovely glass structure sits amongst trees and water and nature trails. The galleries are full of an amazing collection of American art beautifully curated. The big draw for us was the special exhibit that is there through January – State of the Art. The concept is a team from the museum visited 1000 working artist studios across the country and picked 100 of them to include in the exhibit. The variety of media blew me away. There were interactive displays, videos, collages, toys, photographs, paintings …. It was visual fun, and a very great way to spend a morning. After the museum trip (which is free, by the way), we drove to Fayetteville to pursue my passion of visiting independent book stores. Nightbird is a charmer right in the downtown area. The little trip had multiple highlights. Being in Fayetteville on college football day meant we got to see grown men walking around with razorback hogs on top of their heads. Sitting next to our hotel was a Waffle House. Dan had his first and second experience at this iconic joint. We had some good food and bought some beers that we can’t find here. Yay Roadtrips!

Jean Got Her Ring - One morning there was a text message from Sam that the rings they had ordered were in and he was going to surprise Jean at work. The next thing, there was a picture of a hand with a beautiful ring. It was sweet to see the outpouring of likes and offers of congratulations when the engagement status got put up on their Facebooks. The happiness of good news spreading is a nice thing about social media.

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Royals – To be still writing about the Royals is something! This team has not only boosted the happiness level of this city, but they have charmed the socks off of countless the world over. There are good stories every day about something this team has done, or that others have done that make this more than just a baseball story. As I have already confessed, I am not a terribly active baseball fan, but right now I can name a good portion of the roster and I am even contemplating purchasing my first Royals t-shirt.

royals

Wordless! performance by Art Spiegelman + Phillip Johnston – I remember seeing the book, Maus for the first time and needing to buy it immediately. It was something so new, and I loved it. In it, Art Spiegelman told an amazing story via a comic book format. It had humor, but it also had tragedy and wickedness and sorrow. It became one of my favorite books ever, and it made me a fan of what was to become a whole new genre of literature. I saw on a blog that Speigelman was touring with a jazz ensemble and delivering a lecture about the advent of wordless books. Delightedly, I read that Kansas City was on the tour. I bought tickets and Dan and I went to the performance at the incredible Kauffman Center. It was fantastic, and the way that the images that Spiegelman highlighted were so well supplemented by the jazz of the Phillip Johnston group was crazy great!

I think I will just stop there, even though I have several more items that I have noted in my journal. Suffice it to say that I am feeling pretty lucky these days.

Too Blessed to Be Stressed by Paul Thorn (Album of the Week)

paul thorn

Album: Too Blessed to be Stressed

Artist: Paul Thorn

Year: 2014

Details: 11 songs; 44 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

I challenge anyone to not like Paul Thorn. I would recommend that you get to know him through a live performance, but I think that that this week’s album could make a fan out of a new listener. I came to Paul Thorn by accident. We had gone to a concert to see Slaid Cleaves, a singer that Dan really likes. It so happened that this guy named Paul Thorn was headlining. Within minutes of taking the stage, I was won over. His stage charisma is the best I have ever witnessed. The stories that he tells between songs are almost as good as the songs themselves – and that is saying a lot. SInce that first performance, I have seen him many a time. Each show is a delight.

Choosing Paul Thorn’s new album as our album of the week was my excuse to listen to music that I pretty much knew I would enjoy. Mission accomplished. It was a fun to fill my ears the last couple weeks with lines like:

I sin on Saturday / I repent on Sunday / Then I tell myself I won’t procrastinate on Monday / Tuesday I do like I should / Wednesday I do pretty good / Thursday Paul drops the ball / I backslide on Friday

The title of the album might suggest that this album has a religious bent. Well, in a way, yes it does, but it is not in a preachy way. Paul Thorn always  is walking the saint/sinner line and he singing about that journey. His daddy was a preacher and an uncle was a pimp. He crafts that dichotomy into story songs that reflect his failure to live up to expectation, but his wonder of the crazy world that he gets to get about in. He enjoys life. He enjoys being naughty, but the sweetness of his core is never in doubt.

Dan seems to think that the naughty side of Paul has been put away with this album, and that he surrenders too fully to the sweet. I think that Dan is too harsh with his critique.

In the 11 songs that make up this album you get a good portrait of the artist. The title song is all about the gift that life is – even when there is much that isn’t that sweet that happens. His southern drawl and his lyrics, backed by a gospel choir, organ, and bluesy guitars brings the message across in a manner that would be as natural in a church as it would be in a honky tonk bar.

One song laments the fact that his drug dealer is dead and the only friends he has left is an old stray dog and Jesus. Mediocrity is King pointedly describes our current political system where a wise man walks and a foolish man rides. And the album closes with a valentine to home – No Place I’d Rather Be.

There have been some albums that we have listened to during this year of listening and reviewing that I struggle to understand the words or the meanings. With Paul Thorn, there is no struggle. Listening is like sitting down over a beer and hearing what is going on with him. You just happen to get pieces of his life in song format. It’s pretty darn enjoyable.

Next Up: Art Official Age by Prince

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Last Week’s Good Things

weekoI am slightly late in getting this posted, but I am getting a little closer to my ideal posting schedule. Last week was a good one with some beautiful indications that autumn is upon us – my favorite season. There was even a night when we had to put an extra blanket on the bed. As the week went by, here are a few of the good things that caught my attention!

royaloRoyals Success – I would not be a good Kansas Citian if I did not put this in my Number 1 slot! The giddiness in this town is palpable. Everyone, everywhere is wearing their Royals gear that reflects team members from George Brett to Eric Hosmer. (Spoiler – last week, the Royals won their wildcard game – this week, they won their series against the Angels to put them into the American League championship series.) This is fun for my dear city!

MMMichael and Molly – Watching the Royals win with our friends, Michael and Molly was quite a treat – even though they were Oakland fans. Dan, J, M and I met Michael and Molly in the most memorable of ways. We met them during a morning tour of the Templeton Rye Distillery in Nebraska. They came from Des Moines; we came from Kansas City. After the tour, we connected over an opportunity to get to know the product a little better. Among the six of us there, we found friendship that has now led to visits to each other’s homes. This week, they made their way to KC! How very good that was!

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Baby Girl – When I was pregnant with both Sam and Ali, I think I had one sonogram between them. I don’y remember that it told us much more than that I had something going on in there. Many changes have occurred since those days. Sonograms happen more regularly, and the machines and technicians are pretty advanced. With this has come a new phenomena – a gender reveal. Last week, we got to join in a celebration in learning that our dearest J&M will be bringing a little girl into the world next spring. We all found out when we sprayed an unmarked can of silly string – and it was pink. We can’t wait to meet her.

New Jobs – Sam was excited to start a new job last week as the Beverage Manager at Ma Peche in NY. He sounds so excited about what he will learn and the great mentors available for him. Both he and Jean are in new positions as this year winds down. It has been a big year for both of them, and I am eager to see their continued career growth and personal growth. The other new job is Dan’s! He found out that he will be working at SAFEHOME in Johnson County, Kansas helping to bring dollars to a shelter for abused women. This opportunity presented itself and just seems like a wonderful fit for everyone.

flagA Successful Audit – Every three years at my work, some of our research is audited. That means that people come to our site, and look through all of our records to make sure that things happened the way that they were meant to happen. Preparing for an audit means many hours of combing through a medical record and pulling out the evidence. Paper flags are used in abundance! This is audit year, and our auditors were on site last Monday and Tuesday. When one hears the word audit, it does not sound pleasant. Our two days, could barely have been more pleasant. Our auditors were good listeners and teachers. Our preparations was exemplary and I think that, to a person, our group was proud of what we did and how we did it. I know I was so proud of everyone.

What a nice week that was.