Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Day

The day began by a quick stop at the US embassy in London to pick up a ticket to Parliment and the House of Commons. I then made my way to Big Ben's home and was fortunate enough to get in to hear the Prime Minister's question time which occurs on Wednesday's at noon. This was a neat experience and quite entertaining. The British government is structured in two houses the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The House of Commons tends to have more interesting and rowdy debates. It was pretty cool to see Tony Blair going at it in person. Members of Parliment raise questions and then he responds to them. At times, they really have a go at each other and it can be almost of thing of school yard style "Your mama's so fat..."

Interestingly, there are red lines on each side of the room which people are supposed to stand behind. The original reason for them was members of Parliment would carry swords into sessions. The red lines were the length of two swords plus some extra room to help ensure that the opposing sides not actually come to blows when passionately speaking.

The Prime Minister's question time only lasts for 30 minutes and then they move into the more relaxed pace of introducing new legislation and deliberating. Things are structured very much to allow debate and encourage discussion between varying veiwpoints.

It was then on to a quick tour at the Bank of England museum. There was a sample bar of gold weighing 28 pounds which was available for visitors to pick up and try out the weight.

The evening brough us to another musical in the West End which contains the above mentioned exra long word in a song within. (hint: the musical has two words that start with an M and a P.) I especially enjoyed this stage production of the classical story. Special effects included in it allowed for the somewhat realistic looking flying of kites indoors and airborne approaches and departures from the much beloved and precocious Mary. Quite a full and satisfying day.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chamonix, France

After checking out the sites of Geneva, I took a 2 hour bus ride to Chamonix, France to go skiing in the Alps. This was my first on ground experience with the Alps. (had one previous in air viewing of them) They were spectacularly beautiful. Snow capped enormous and truly inspiring. Brought to mind the verse "He who formed the mountains, creates the wind, reveals Himself to man, He who turns dawn to darkness and treads the high places of earth- the Lord God Almighty is His name." -Amos 4:13

Skiing was fun. After a 4 year hiatus, several runs down the slope had me performing with relative success. The tough part was the ski lift. As opposed to traditional benches with a bar to keep you from falling, they had these things which I would describe as similar to a tire swing that you sat on and would pull you up the hill with feet still on the ground. I never really got the hang and at one point got frustrated enough to take off my skis and walk back up hill. The experience gave me appreciation for a saying of possible future usage: "as hard as skiing uphill." You really don't want to try this. The town of Chamonix was a neat little ski town with lots of shops and restaurants obviously catering to the ski crowd.

After taking a bus back to Geneva, I caught a flight back to London and arrived a bit on the late end of the evening. I then took a train back to Central London and planned to transfer via the underground train system back to my home base of Paddington. Just before getting on the underground, a small set of tourists from Norway asked if this was the train to Paddington and I answer in the affirmative and assured them that I was going there. Unfortunately, the underground system does not run 24 hours a day and as I arrived to the station around 12:30, I mistakenly took the incorrect train which I did not realize until too late. The first few stops were the same as I would expect and then we hit a stop out of the customary path. By this time, I investigated and discovered that I (and the Norweigan tourists) was on the wrong train and needed to turn around. The train did not cooperate but actually went all the way to the end of the line without stopping at any more stations and since Murphey reigns in these situations, it was the last train of the night. Mind you, the end of the line is way, way far away from where I live and walking was certainly not an option. It was either try to navigate the London Night bus system or taxi it back to Paddington. The bus system being somewhat confusing even in the light of day, I chose the later and brought my crew of Norweigans along with me. It had all the feelings of adventure and frustration packed into one. Seems kind of comical now.

I promise to post pictures of these last two adventures but am preparing for an early depature for the next destination of Italy in the morning. Stay tuned.

Geneva, Swizerland

The most recent excursion involved a trip to the land of watches, chocolate, and banks. Chocolate was consumed, watches were observed, however no shady business transactions were conducted in banks. I spent a day checking out the city, wondering around the lake, saw an enormous water fountain which jets about 138 meters in the air (called the Jet d'Eau). It is supposed to pump water out at a rate of 132 gallons per second. Pretty spectacular. The area around the lake was quite nice with lots of gulls, ducks, swans, and boats.

In journeys around the city, I got to see a clock made of flowers which keeps accurate time. (being in Switzerland, one would expect accuracy of this caliber) There was also an island at the edge of the lake where the philosopher Rousseau of the Enlightenment period used to hang out and philosophize. Another stop along the way was a museum of the Protestant Reformation located in close proximity to the former home of John Calvin.

A fine meal of perch, salad, fries, and Coca-Cola was consumed at a local restaurant for lunch. The afternoon consisted of further wandering of the city and seeing the location where the Red Cross organization was founded.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tide to Go

The Wisdom of Dre can now officially recommend Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover, 0.34 fl oz After initial skepticism, this nifty little "pen" did a nice job of removing a strawberry jam stain with only the esoteric and very discerning eye able to identify anything out of the ordinary. This would be a nice addition to the purse of female readers. Male readers are advised not to carry a purse but rather to find more manly alternatives of storing this handy tool (i.e. gym bag, trunk of car, toolbox).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Your Own Personal Board of Directors

Imagine yourself as the CEO of your own company. As CEO you will have various people who work for you such as a V.P. of Finance, V.P. of Information Technology, V.P. of Legal Counsel, V.P. of Marketing, etc. Each of these members of your staff serve an important role in advising you and guiding the company. Their past experience in the specialty areas uniquely equips them to provide this guidance on proper management of the company.

This analogy can very accurately be transferred to your own personal finances. You are the CEO of Me, Inc. Regardless of whether or not you work for someone else, ultimately, you are your own boss when it comes to financial matters. Similarly to the executive team of a company an individual should arrange a "board of directors" for their own personal finances.

This team of individuals may consist of an accountant, a lawyer, an insurance agent, a banker, and a financial planner. Each of these are important areas in which to have solid financial advice. While one may believe themself to be intelligent and of the do-it-yourself mindset, it is important to consider that these professionals have experience in the specific areas in question and that the money spent will likely be well worth it. This is of course provided that you do some shopping around for good references.

Your personal board of directors will provide advice in a variety of financial and life issues that you may encounter. Some people within these areas may already be within your present group of friends and family. If so, that is great but be careful to remain as objective as possible in business matters and make certain that they explain things in a simple to understand manner. You want to learn and become more savvy financially as life progresses. Those with "the heart of a teacher" as Dave Ramsey says, are most ideal.

The board members will create a sound structure for you whether you have basic dealings or more complex financial transactions. Solomon the wise said it best, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." -Proverbs 15:22

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I Dared to Call Him Father

I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheikh

Bilquis Sheikh was a traditional Muslim woman living in Pakistan during the 1960s. At the age of 52, after discontent with life she began examining the Koran in more depth to try to find greater purpose and hope for life. During her search, she noticed the prophet Jesus mentioned within the Koran and thought perhaps reading more on his teachings would be interesting.

As one who came from a well respected and wealthy family, she had many resources and servants at her beckon. She instructed one of the servants to obtain a Bible for her and began to read it. Though it was in a difficult to understand version of the Urdu language, she became intrigued and had a couple dreams relating to John the Baptist and Jesus. She had not read about John prior to her dreams. The dreams struct her so vividly that she had to learn more and so cautiously approached a local Christian missionary.

Over the next weeks and months, God revealed to her that the Jesus of the Bible was the true message of hope for life. She struggled tremendously with the decision to follow this Jesus of an aberrant religion and the implications of intense persecution/ostracization that she would experience if turning to Christ. However, she was continuously brought back to being at peace when dwelling on the things of the Bible and when she talked with God as if He were her father. She eventually surrendered to God and placed her full faith in Him and the promises of the Bible.

The resulting persecution was very real both emotionally, materially, and socially. However, God grew her faith and continuously taught her and utilized her testimony for His glory throughout the rest of her life. This book provides good insight into Muslim society and the meaning of accepting Christ in that society. Not only is it a good read but also a true story.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven But Nobody Wants to Die

Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven But Nobody Wants to Die by David Crowder and Mike Hogan

This book was written by the the eponymous member of a certain rock band and his fiddler compatriot in same said band. It is largely about grief, dealing with loss, and a smattering of Bluegrass music history interspersed. The premise behind including the music history is that Bluegrass has an implicit understanding of grief. Crowder and
Hogan have personally experienced tremendous loss in their lives with multiple family members and close friends passing into the sweet by and by. The book is partially an account of them working through their grief over the loss of their friend Kyle Lake, former pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.

In typical Crowder fashion, elements of humor are strewn through out the book making a serious subject more readable.

As only God could orchestrate, their album A Collisioncontained many elements within it dealing with death, the Christian response to it, and ultimate victory over it. This album was recorded and released several months prior to Kyle's electrocution in the baptistery. It ended up ministering as much to them as it did to their audiences.

The format of the book takes a bit of getting used to. It incorporates traditional prose but also a short story listed in 3 parallel parts as well as IM conversations and various illustrated examples. At times, the flow of the book can feel disjointed but the end result seems to be an effective presentation of how we deal with grief and the application of Bluegrass.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Tech Tip# 2

One of the best short cuts Microsoft ever invented, in my opinion, is the alt + tab functionality. This nifty trick can save significant time switching between programs. For example, if you have several sessions of Internet Explorer open, a couple Word documents, Excel, and Outlook you can easily move from the active screen to another application by pressing alt + tab. This saves the necessity of taking your hands off of the keyboard to use the mouse. I would estimate this saves me several minutes every day.

Monday, February 05, 2007


After lunch, we drove through the Cotswolds, which is a nice and scenic piece of the country full of bucolic fields and populated by sundry sheep and a llama farm. Following the passing of the Cotswolds, we made a brief visit to Oxford. This was my second stop,(see here for the first) but I learned a new theory on the origins of some elements in The Chronicles of Narnia. There is a lamp post closely adjacent to a door with the picture of a lion's head and a mantle decorated with a fawn. Since C.S. Lewis lived and taught in Oxford, it is very possible that he saw these and used them as inspiration for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Narnia Lamp Post

Narnia Lion

Narnia Fawn

Check back tomorrow for additional pictures.


We then made a stop in Stratford to see the birthplace of one William Shakespeare. The tour guide said he wrote a bunch of famous stories or something. (tongue planted firmly in cheek) I would have welcomed more time in the town since it had the feeling of a mixture between Oxford and York. Stratford was followed by a stop for lunch at a pub called the White Hart. They had a very nice chicken dish topped off with apple pie.

Shakespeare's Birthplace

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." As You Like It -Shakespeare

Warwick Castle

I took a tour of 3 separate sites on Saturday. The first stop was Warwick Castle. This was built as a defence mechanism, as most castles tended to be, back a long time ago. It was also used as a residence as recently as the early 1900s and a young Winston Churchill was known to have attended parties here. The castle itself is quite large and expansive. Going up on top of the walls was fun and provided a nice view of the surrounding village. Interestingly, there was a component of the castle which included fancy furnishings for hosting parties and the like. As with any good castle, it came equiped with a dungeon. (not a place I would have wanted to stay) The day turned out quite nice (a rarity in England) and the blue sky provided a nice backdrop to an assortment of geese along the bank of the river.

Warwick Castle

Warwick Village

Warwick Castle Wall

Another unique feature of the castle was the presence of a peacock garden a short walk from the castle walls. There were around 10 peacocks either napping or walking about.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


This evening I had the most enjoyable opportunity to play football with the lads. That's football in the European sense. They're very serious about it here and it was good fun to represent for the States.

The Hills Are Alive...

with the Sound of Music. Or at least the streets of London are. I got to see this nice rendition of the Rogers & Hammerstein classic at the London Palladium. While they cut a few parts to make it fit into a tidy 3 hour space, it was still high quality. Maria was cast in a unique way. On BBC television, they had a sort of reality TV American Idol/X Factor styled competition in which around 10 actresses tried out. Each of them were amateurs much like the American Idol competitors. I personally rooted for Connie Fisher, the eventual winner of the role, throughout the competition. She did a quality job of portraying Maria. Here's the website of the musical.
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