Sunday, December 26, 2010

Year of the Rabbitt

2011 (MMXI) is a common year starting on Saturday.

In the Gregorian calendar, it is the 2011th year of the Common Era or the Anno Domini designation; the 11th year of the 3rd millennium and of the 21st century; and the 2nd of the 2010s decade.

The United Nations has designated 2011 the International Year of Forests and International Year of Chemistry.

March 18 – NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft is scheduled to arrive in orbit around Mercury.

April 1 – The Space Shuttle will undertake its final mission before retirement.

In May, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, and Mars all visible within a roughly 6° area of sky.
In July the Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the minor planet 4 Vesta during July. The exact date remains uncertain. The International Olympic Committee will decide the host city of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

September 9 – October 23 – New Zealand will host the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Exact dates unknown but in 2011 California will open the world's largest solar power plant. The Nord Stream natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany will be completed. Blue Waters, a petascale supercomputer being designed and built as a joint effort between the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and IBM is expected to be completed in this year. A new definition of the kilogram, based on universal constants, is likely to be announced at the 24th General Conference on Weights and Measures.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas Friends!

There's more, much more to Christmas
Than candle-light and cheer;
It's the spirit of sweet friendship
That brightens all the year;

It's thoughtfulness and kindness,
It's hope reborn again,
For peace, for understanding
And for goodwill to men!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A foreigner's guide to American culture

As I lay in bed last night I read this interesting insight from Kevin Connolly- a BBC Correspondent on living in the US. I don't necessarily agree with all the points he makes but then again... I love and respect this country so much, but her people are so hard to understand! I know it is a lenghty read in this age of instant information and gratification, but hey, kick back, take a sip of eggnog and read on!

The BBC's America correspondent Kevin Connolly is packing his bags for a new post in the Middle East. During his three years in the US he has visited 46 out of 50 states and covered the country's election of its first black president.

Sometime around the spring of 1835, a young Frenchman called Alexis de Tocqueville travelled to the United States on a mission guaranteed to make Americans bristle with irritation. He was going to understand them, and explain them.

De Tocqueville was smart, Gallic and aristocratic - a 19th Century version of the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" that 21st Century Americans find so vexing.

He left behind one or two books that are still worth reading, but his most important legacy was his simplest.

After De Tocqueville, just about every European sent to the United States has treated the posting as an invitation to help diagnose the country's faults and suggest ways in which they might be fixed.

Americans find this a little puzzling.

After all, they reason, theirs is a country founded and created by migrants who had left the old world behind them.

And it is generally the most energetic and resourceful people who flee old lives to build new worlds, leaving their less enterprising fellow-countrymen behind them.

So the arc of American development is going to make the place less and less like the old world, not more and more.

But there is, nevertheless, a deep-seated European instinct that says the United States might be all right if it would only tweak its attitude towards healthcare, or gun control or the death penalty.

But, of course, it would not exactly be all right - it would just be Britain with bigger portions and better weather.

Great American Songbook
My own introduction to the realities of the American century came at a rather less strategic level.

As a very young child, I had a stammer, and when I was growing up there was a theory that the rhythms and repetitions of popular songs could be useful tools for fixing this.

“When you come to live in America, you are shocked by the familiarity of the unfamiliar ”

So the Great American Songbook was drummed into me with such merciless kindness in my mother's kitchen that I can still remember nearly all the lyrics, postcards to the dreary Europe of the early 1960s from what we dimly perceived to be a brighter place.

When age has finally shriven me of everything else I recollect across the ravaged wastes of memory, I know for certain that I will still recollect every word of the Eileen Barton classic If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd Have Baked a Cake, a genuine contender to be considered the worst song ever written.

Among our favourites was a song called Delaware, which consists of a never-ending string of puns based on American place names.

"What did Della wear, boys? Why, she wore a brand new jersey of course... "

I am still struck today by the charmless ingenuity of its witless wordplay.

It does not tackle any of the really awkward ones like Vermont, or Utah but it does manage a verse about "Why did Callie phone ya?" (Cali-for-nia)

In case you had not guessed incidentally, Callie was calling to ask "How are ya?" (Ha-wa-ii).

The result of that early exposure to American culture, of course, is simple.

When you come to live in America you are shocked by the familiarity of the unfamiliar.

You will know a pretzel from a bagel and a Dodger from a Met.

You know what the uniformed concierges at apartment buildings do, and you know what you must tip them at Christmas.

The answers respectively being not much, and too much.

And there is something beguiling in that easy familiarity, but something misleading about it, too. It tends to blind Europeans, and the British in particular, to any sense of just how foreign a place America can be.

'Bureaucratic boondoggle'
This is, after all, a country born out of a tax-revolt during a rebellion against centralising authority, and then expanded by settlers who exchanged the comforts of the Eastern seaboard for the dangers and opportunities of the wild interior.

It is not surprising that a feisty scepticism towards government lingers in the politics here.

The Tea Party movement is successful because it taps into the deep American suspicion that all federal government apart from defence spending, is a kind of bureaucratic boondoggle, dreamed up by larcenous conspiracists in Washington to allow them to line their pockets by picking ours.

And America is, of course, an intensely religious place - something that is not difficult to trace to its foundation by a band of hardy religious zealots.

If anything, over time, it is getting more religious rather than less. The motto In God We Trust was not added to American banknotes until the 1950s, for example.

Americans tied themselves in knots two years ago agonising over whether a black man, or a white woman could yet be elected president.

But here is a safe prediction. It will be a very long time before an atheist or agnostic gets anywhere near the White House.

A stark contrast with Europe where the opposite is increasingly the case.

And our differences extend into this earthly realm too.

To Europeans, for example, a gun is a weapon, pure and simple.

To many, but not all Americans, it is a badge of independence, and self-reliance - the tool of the engaged citizen who does not think that either the criminal, or the forces of the state, should have a monopoly on deadly force.

Show us a gun, and we picture a muscular ne'er-do-well in a balaclava menacing an elderly sub-postmistress.

An American is more likely to visualise a plucky homesteader crouching between an overturned sofa in a burning ranch house, preparing to defend his family to the death.

American manners
These things too are familiar enough, but a country so large, so restless and so energetic is necessarily full of surprises and contradictory impulses too.

This is after all, the land that gave us prohibition and then invented organised crime to get around it.

“ I have been handed a ticket to a multi-storey car park with an exhortation to have an 'outstanding parking experience' ”

American writing, for example, beguiles and exasperates in equal measure.

Its newspapers - with one or two exceptions - are awful.

Endless sub-clauses roam across prairies of newsprint in search of the point, like homesteader wagons on the Oregon trail circling around a knackered old buffalo.

And yet the daily American way with language is touched with brilliance, taut and crackling with life.

My favourite example is the simplest, the old railroad crossing sign that simply says: Stop. Look. Listen.

Impossible to shorten or clarify, it was written by an engineer for a country of new immigrants with limited English. It is not long, but it is still in use today, a rare example of perfect writing.

American manners, too, are not quite what you might expect.

The invocation to "have a nice day" is still common, and when it feels sincere it has a real charm. But like a fast-food franchise it has expanded and mutated.

In the Bible-belt, you will be wished a "blessed day" for example.

Gymnasium receptionists will enjoin you to "have an excellent workout" and, most improbably of all, I have been handed a ticket to a multi-storey car park with an exhortation to have an "outstanding parking experience".

But the rejoinder "you're welcome", which once greeted almost any expression of thanks in America, is in retreat.

In its place is a sort of wordless acknowledgement, halfway between a grunt and a hum, "mm-hmmm". It is a sound that acknowledges your thanks but implies that no great joy has been found in helping you either.

“America has enormous debts but it still spends as much money on defence as all the rest of the world put together ”

America was first into the world of over-effusive politeness and it is on the way to being first out, too.

In some ways, in my three years in America, I found the country at one of the least typical times in its history.

A society defined by boundless optimism in its own future has been suffering a spasm of self-doubt.

For the first time in history, the current generation of Americans cannot be certain that the generation that comes next will be more prosperous.

An aversion to paying taxes and an addiction to public and private debt do not add up, and American voters may well be left to conclude that they have awarded themselves a lifestyle that they can not really afford.

One possible casualty might be the curious form of credit-card imperialism that has helped to shape the world in recent years.

America has enormous debts but it still spends as much money on defence as all the rest of the world put together.

And if that makes you uncomfortable, it is worth remembering that wherever you are, there is a good chance that if your country is ever invaded, your leader's first phone call will be to the White House in Washington.

And so this remains a place of immense patriotic pride.

Because it is a country at war, young men and women in uniform are a common sight on internal flights around the country.

It is curiously moving to see them sitting looking a little embarrassed as a pilot or flight attendant calls on their fellow passengers to give their service and sacrifice a standing ovation.

Friendliness and hospitality
But there are, of course, irritations to living anywhere, and it is the job of the irritable to find them.

Americans could make their public spaces a little quieter, for example, if they all took one step closer to the person they are talking to.

And they could speed up their journeys to work by not insisting on holding every elevator for everyone who wants to catch it as though it was one of the last helicopters leaving the roof of the Saigon embassy in 1975. There will be another lift along in a minute.

And after three years of eating steaks the size of elephant's ears off plates bigger than satellite dishes, all of our crockery back in Europe now looks like it was borrowed from a doll's house. They may take some getting used to.

But America in one sense was exactly as I expected it to be: a place of gripping public theatre at election times, and a place of great private virtue nearly all the time.

I found that private virtue on the night I arrived three years ago on a much-delayed New Year's Eve flight, which slipped and stumbled through the icy skies over the choppy darkness of the cold prairies.

I chatted sporadically to the grandmotherly woman beside me about home, and family, although I cannot in truth remember much of what was said.

But I do remember what happened once we landed.

There were no taxis and my fellow passenger insisted, without checking with him, that her husband would happily drive me to my hotel.

It was a round trip for him in the Arctic midnight of a public holiday of perhaps two or three hours.

I expected to detect at least a flicker of surprise on his face when this was first put to him, but there was none.

"This is America son," he told me, "We help each other out."

Nothing that happened in the three years that followed was to undermine that first impression of friendliness and hospitality.

De Tocqueville toiled on higher slopes of creativity than me and did a pretty good job of understanding and explaining Americans, even though they get riled at the idea that foreigners can ever understand or explain them.

Still, for all his tireless labours and exalted musings, I bet nothing ever happened to him that explained as clearly as that five-minute conversation in an airport car park three years ago, exactly what it is like to live among those extraordinary people in that extraordinary place.
Published: 2010/12/18 11:45:12 GMT


Thursday, December 16, 2010

My favourite Christmas things... so far!

My Favourite New Christmas Ornament (Collections) :-)

Every year the US Congress releases an official holiday ornament and I have been collecting them since 2006 (the year I came to the US). Last year I got to visit the Capitol and the White House in DC and so these ornaments took on a whole new meaning to me. Today I got the 2010 one. This year's ornament celebrates winter and depicts the East Front of the Capitol. On the ornament, the Capitol appears as it exists today while a horse-drawn carriage reminds us of the building's origins at the end of the 18th century. The vignette is crafted of multiple layers of finely enameled cutwork metal placed to create a three-dimensional scene. It truly is beautiful!

Thank you Kathy G!

My Other Favourite Christmas Ornament (Single editions)

Seven boots, cowboy hat and a sheriff badge! Very fitting! Not sure if i want to meet the cowboy that has a need for three boots though!

Thank you Patrik and Diana for this gem inbetween the other goodies!

My Favourite Virtual Christmas Card

Is a card I got from Amtrak Guest Rewards. It is pretty neat and uses the precipt of a children's pop up book to travel from coast to coast. Very well done, but hey, look for yourself and turn up those speakers...

My Favourite New Elf

Santa's newest helper, Christmas Trevor, urged us this morning to 'Believe' while doling out fistfuls of Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuits!

I have never so fervently believed in a sandwich, while inside my brain my seven personallities competed with each other shouting "I Believe Santa, I BELIEVE!"!

Ugh, it is going to be a loooooong day.

Thank you for the breakfast treat, Christmas Trevor!!

My Favourite Christmas Song

My Favourite Christmas Card
Okay, so this is one of my favourite Christmas cards this year. The photo is of Valerie, a colleague of mine, her husband Tony, Rosie the dog and their pet calf - Holstine.

He is an adoptee from the Mercy Ships Ranch and was obtained to replace a new born calf that went missing. After a few days the original calf turned up and Holstine was not needed anymore.

The Moreland’s adopted him and he went to go stay with them at their little house. We suggested that  they name him Sir Loin, but they graciously declined...

The Nativity 2.0

Here's a funny (and surprisingly non-sacreligious) re-telling of the Nativity using modern technology. It is called "The Nativity 2.0" ...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Eight Hours A Day!

The beautiful but crazy people I work with... EVERYDAY...

I love my job!

Reaching out in South Africa and news from Texas

News from Texas
Nice warm Texas greetings to wherever in the world this might find you! What a beautiful time, winter is my favorite season of the year and I am having a blast knowing it is about to happen! Apologies if you are already snowed under and fed up of it all!

I am still waiting (not so patiently at times) to hear what the decision is on my green card application. Latest is that I might only find out in April if I could start on the second stage… God is teaching me patience again…

My truck decided to move on to its happy place and I had to urgently get a newer old car! So, now I drive a 1999 Mercury Grand Marquis, and boy, it is HUGE! I keep getting a feeling I should let animals on in pairs. But hey, I desperately needed a car and now I got one. I am still raising the money to pay it off, so if you feel stirred to help a poor African missionary in his hour of need, I am your man. All help is truly appreciated.

Work wise, it is our busiest season and in full swing. I am part of our PR team and we try to raise awareness of Mercy Ships in the media here in the US and it is quite a tough assignment. It is hard to sell stories of good in a media that likes their bloodshed and negative stories.

As the year is drawing to a close, please be assured of my eternal gratitude in your support of me, both in finances and in prayer. I appreciate the fact that it has not been an easy year and the recovery is slow and painful. I appreciate you very, very much.

Merry Christmas!

News from South Africa

A spur-of-the-moment suggestion developed into a two-day Extreme Dental Outreach in one of the most notorious areas of Durban, South Africa. Dr. Dag Tvedt, Mercy Ships Chief Dental Officer, met a fellow Norwegian named Ingrid Osthus. Ingrid is a graduate student studying to do social work with street children. The two were discussing the Mercy Ships off-ship dental program when Ingrid suggested that the team come to her church to do a clinic for the street kids who congregate there. Dr. Tvedt agreed, and the dates for the clinic were chosen.
The church is in a very disadvantaged area of Durban---an area that is the home to gangs of young people. Many of them have been on the streets since they were children, doing whatever they must do to survive.

Louise Lokriet, the mission administrator, explained, “When the Presbyterian Beach Mission was set up, it was thought that the surfers would be attracted, but the homeless showed up. We found them on our doorstep, so they had to become our children.”

Louise works with Pat Thaver, Trauma Counsellor to Abused Women, to build relationships with the many homeless young people in the area and to provide food and spiritual guidance. They encourage the youth to attend the Sunday church service and to get involved with the programs there that are geared to putting lives in order. “My love and my passion is to feed these young people and help them build a life,” she said. She began by leading worship at the church and then took over leadership of the Sunday School. “I arranged with a hospital for them all to get treated free, even for dental work,” she added.

Louise and Pat are aided in their work by Isaac Mkhize, who volunteers many hours to the program each week. “Every Friday we have a special service. I play keyboard and sing with them. After that, I teach them about God.”

A room was provided for the dental team to set up their chairs and equipment. Loaves of bread were sliced, spread with butter and placed on trays for the meal that preceded the clinic. Security was set in place to ensure order among the rowdy young people.

When the clinic began, a few of the patients were anxious to rush in for the free dental care. But some were more nervous about sitting in the dental chair. Dr. Tvedt was assisted by two other dentists – Dr. Kaare Nilsen, volunteer dentist from Norway, and Dr. Natasha Rampershad, who is volunteering with the Department of Health for a year. The three of them extracted many decayed teeth that were causing great pain.

“Although these patients were a bit of a challenge, they were also very appreciative,” said Dr. Tvedt.

Story by Elaine B. Winn
Photos by Debra Bell

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas iBand!

Feliz Navidad using borrowed iPhones and iPads at North Point Community Church.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chasing Cattle!

The Fort Worth Stockyards is a National Historic District located in Fort Worth, Texas north of the central business district. The stockyards are a former livestock market which operated under various owners from 1866. The arrival of railroads in 1876 made the area a very important livestock center. Fort Worth remained an important part of the cattle industry until the 1960s.

The Fort Worth Stockyards now celebrates Fort Worth's long tradition as a part of the cattle industry and was designated as a historical district in 1976. Many bars and nightclubs (including Billy Bob's Texas) are located in the vicinity, and the area has a Western motif. There is also an opry and a rodeo.

The Fort Worth Stockyards are the last standing stockyards in the United States. Some volunteers still run the cattle drives through the stockyards, a practice developed in the late 19th century by the frontiersman Charles "Buffalo" Jones, who herded buffalo calves through the streets of Garden City, Kansas.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The End Of The Road.... Trip!

1480 Miles (2383 Km's) later and the trip has ended... 12 hours later (due to some roadwork in Mississippi) and with a seriously numb derriere! You were good to me Atlanta, and I like you a lot!

One bad move though... in Alabama, Vangie and Shannon convinced me to try boiled peanuts... Oh dear...

Boiling peanuts has been a folk cultural practice in the south of the US since the 19th century, where they were originally called goober peas. In late August, when the peanut crops would come in, unsold and surplus peanuts would be prepared in a boiling, and extended families and neighbors would gather to share conversation and food. Like a fish fry, peanut boils have been organizing principles for social gatherings. Like okra, black-eyed peas, collard greens and pork barbecue, boiled peanuts are symbols of southern culture and cuisine. I am sure it is quite the festive occasion when done at home at home...

Not so much when you try it in a rural Alabama semi Stuckys gas station... It must have been festering in that crock pot for days...

It was a brown murky floating mess. When the lady behind the counter overheard us, she got in on the conversation and promptly offered me one... then a customer cooed, "Oh his first boiled peanut, how cute...." Ugh, I gently scooped one out and tried to dry it as much as possible in my paper serviette. Thankfully the lady behind the counter warned me it will be hot and that I should wait for it to cool a bit.

I felt the bile rise from that wet peanut shell smell and I kept wondering how long has that been cooking in that pot! Outside I gingerly cracked the shell open and popped one of the peanuts in my mouth. It did not even touch the palate of my mouth before I spat it out. NASTY. Like a soggy piece of nasty cardboard. Shannon and Vangie both cracked up laughing and so did the occupants in the car next to us which turned out to be the customer from the shop!

Nope, lesson learned and the good folks in the south can keep their boiled peanuts to themselves!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Exploring Atlanta - CNN Center and the World of Coca Cola

This morning, after my free yummy breakfast (why does it taste better when it is free?) I headed out to the CNN Center in downtown Atlanta. The CNN Center is the world headquarters of the Cable News Network (CNN). The main newsrooms and studios for several of CNN's news channels are located in the building. The facility's commercial office space is occupied entirely by CNN and its parent company, Turner Broadcasting System, a division of Time Warner.

Cable News Network (CNN) is a U.S. cable news channel founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. Upon its launch, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the United States. While the news channel has numerous affiliates, CNN primarily broadcasts from its headquarters at the CNN Center in Atlanta, the Time Warner Center in New York City, and studios in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. CNN is owned by parent company Time Warner, and the U.S. news channel is a division of the Turner Broadcasting System. CNN is sometimes referred to as CNN/U.S. to distinguish the American channel from its international counterpart, CNN International. As of August 2010, CNN is available in over 100 million U.S. households. Broadcast coverage extends to over 890,000 American hotel rooms, and the U.S broadcast is also shown in Canada. Globally, CNN programming airs through CNN International, which can be seen by viewers in over 212 countries and territories. It was quite a fascinating look behind the scenes and the inner workings of gathering and producing the news.
Just down the road is The World of Coca-Cola which is a permanent exhibition featuring the history of The Coca-Cola Company and its well-known advertising as well as a host of entertainment areas and attractions. Guests can sample 64 products offered by The Coca-Cola Company worldwide in the Taste It! exhibit, including most of the products offered in the United States. One room with a giant Coca-Cola contour bottle features only products that include the name "Coca-Cola" or a variation in their titles, including Coca-Cola Classic, Diet Coke, and most currently-available variations on the original formula (including Coca-Cola Vanilla, Coca-Cola Zero, Coca-Cola Cherry, and others). There is also a Coca-Cola Freestyle self-serve machine, which can dispense a guest's choice of over 100 carbonated and non-carbonated beverages produced by the company.
What a cool experience. I think I like Atlanta very much!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Exploring Atlanta - Georgia Aquarium and the HIGH Museum of Art

After an exceptionally good lay in, it was off to the Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest aquarium with more than 8.5 million US gallons (31,000 m³) of marine and fresh water housing more than 100,000 animals of 500 different species. The aquarium's notable specimens include four young whale sharks, including Alice and Trixie, two beluga whales named Beethoven and Maris and four manta rays Nandi, Tallulah, Billi and the fourth was recently added.

Funded mostly by a $250 million donation from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, the aquarium was built on a 20 acre (81,000 m²) site north of Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. Marcus credited his 60th birthday dinner at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1990 as among the inspirations behind his desire to build an aquarium in Atlanta. Who knew all those Home Depot sales would benefit tourists like me!

Being Black Friday, and like an idiot forgetting what it was like last year in New York, I had to line up for everything. Just when I was about to hurl a mother, kid and stroller into the nearest shark tank I took my bruised shins over to The High Museum of Art and it's Dali exhibition. The High holds more than 11,000 works of art in its permanent collection. Included in this collection are 19th and 20th century American art; European art; decorative arts; African American art; modern and contemporary art; photography and African art. Highlights of the permanent collection include works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Claude Monet, Martin Johnson Heade, Dorothea Lange, Clarence John Laughlin, and Chuck Close.

The High places special emphasis on supporting and collecting works by Southern self-taught artists, such as Howard Finster, and includes a contextual installation of sculpture and paintings from his Paradise Gardens. The museum includes a curatorial department specifically devoted to the field of self-taught art, a distinction unique among North American museums. The High’s Media Arts department produces an annual film series and festivals of foreign, independent and classic film. Special exhibitions at the High feature strong global partnerships with other museums such as the Louvre and with the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Opificio delle pietre dure in Florence.

My focus though were on the Dali: The Late Work exhibition. Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquis of Dalí de Púbol (May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989), commonly known as Salvador Dalí was a prominent Spanish Catalan surrealist painter born in Figueres. Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in 1931. Dalí's expansive artistic repertoire includes film, sculpture, and photography, in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media. Dalí attributed his "love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes" to a self-styled "Arab lineage," claiming that his ancestors were descended from the Moors.   

Dalí was highly imaginative, and also had an affinity for partaking in unusual and grandiose behavior, in order to draw attention to himself. This sometimes irked those who loved his art as much as it annoyed his critics, since his eccentric manner sometimes drew more public attention than his artwork. My new favourite work is definatedly Dali Atomicus.

In 1941 Philippe Halsman met Dalí and they began to collaborate in the late 1940s. The 1948 work Dali Atomicus explores the idea of suspension, depicting three cats flying, a bucket of thrown water, and Salvador Dalí in mid air. The title of the photograph is a reference to Dalí's work Leda Atomica which can be seen in the right of the photograph behind the two cats. Halsman reported that it took 28 attempts to be satisfied with the result. Oh Shannon, I would love to do this with your three cats! All in all, a very good day exploring!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in Atlanta - Turkey Trot

Oh boy... am I tired... from watching the Turkey Trot! Over 10,000 happy bouncy Atlantians came trotting past me and I cheered them on... Was so tiring I had to go have a sit down! A Turkey Trot is a fun run or footrace that is held on or around Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Americans anticipate indulgent Thanksgiving feasts and run in turkey trots to burn off calories before the big meal. In many parts of the United States, Turkey Trots are as associated with Thanksgiving tradition as the meal itself. Many courses used for these Thanksgiving events are run at major certified USA Track and Field road race distances between 5,000 and 42,195 meters. Turkey Trots range in size from just a few dozen runners to tens of thousands. Most Turkey Trots benefit local charities.

Tommorrow is Black Friday, traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. On this day many U.S. retailers open very early, often at 3 - 5 a.m., and offer promotional sales to kick off the shopping season.   The day's name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Later an alternative explanation began to be offered: that "Black Friday" indicates the period during which retailers are turning a profit, or "in the black." This was all of the 43 inserts in today's edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution promting tomorrow's sales. It should be called Black Tree Day!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Roadtrip So Far...

5am departure from East Texas... Atlanta bound. Shannon looks
anxious... Vangie looks comfortable and I am optimistic...

First potty break...

Just crossed the mighty Missisippi River into the state of Missisippi.
No Potty break as it is under renovation...

Picking fights in Alabama.

700 miles later we made it to Georgia... you can tell we are tired
and not so good with the view finder anymore...
Okay, so we drove past the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Gosh, it is huge! Talladega Superspeedway is located on an old abandoned airfield and was constructed in the 1960s. Talladega is most known for its steep banking and the location of the start/finish line which is closer to turn one than at Daytona International Speedway. The track currently hosts the NASCAR series such as the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series, and the Camping World Truck Series. Talladega Superspeedway is the longest NASCAR oval with a length of 2.66 miles (4.28 km) (Road America - used by the Nationwide Series — is over 4 miles long), and the track also has a seating capacity of 175,000 spectators.

The high number of crashes over the years, along with other factors, have led to rumors of Talladega Superspeedway being cursed. Stories of the origin of the curse vary. Some claim that a local Native American tribe held horse races in the valley where the track currently resides and a chief was killed when he was thrown from his horse. Others say that the site of the superspeedway was once an Indian burial ground. Still another version says that after the local tribe was driven out by the Creek nation for their collaborating with the forces of Andrew Jackson, a shaman put a curse on the valley.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meet Prudence...

The music of Prudence Mabhena is a powerful sound that echoes out of a country in crisis: Zimbabwe. Her success is all the more extraordinary because Prudence is physically disabled. In Zimbabwe, that can be a death sentence.

Prudence story is a tale of abandonment and neglect by her parents and stepmother, and then of a new home at Zimbabwe's King George VI School for the Disabled. Her stepmother despised her. "I felt like nothing; I felt useless. ... I really agreed with her, 'cause at the end of the day I would find out that, yeah, for real, there is nothing that I can do for myself. I ended up believing in whatever she said."

Fearing witchcraft, adults in Zimbabwe often see their children's differences as a sign that the family has been cursed. Mabhena was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that deforms the joints; it has cost her both of her legs, and makes it difficult for her to use her arms. When she was born, her father's mother advised her mother not to nurse her. After her parents abandoned her, she was cared for by her maternal grandmother, a rural farmer who kept Mabhena at her side as she worked.

Her grandmother taught her to sing. She would carry her out to the fields with her, and she would lay her in the fields as she worked in the fields. ... She would sing to Prudence, and Prudence learned to get comfort from music.

Music by Prudence is a 2010 short documentary film directed and produced by Roger Ross Williams. It tells the uplifting story of Prudence as she struggled to overcome poverty and discrimination. All other seven members of Prudence's band "Liyana" are also disabled. Music by Prudence won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).

Watch Prudence deliver a rousing rendition of 'Ipi Ntombi' (Where's My Lady) during VSA's opening ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in June this year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Yes, it really is mine! Thank you!?
A smile of appreciation from a patient at the Hospitality
Center after he's told he can keep the toy.
 Miss Ginny loves the Lord. . . and she loves children. For most of her 86 years, she has been a teacher and mentor of youngsters in her own kindergarten and at church. She leads the Junior Church at First Baptist Church in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. Her class consists of about fifteen children, ages 5 to 9.

When Miss Ginny heard that two members of the church would be volunteering full-time with Mercy Ships onboard the Africa Mercy , she quickly invited them to talk to her class about the mission of the organization. Their presentation included a short video showing life onboard the hospital ship.

The children were fascinated - especially when they saw the children recovering in the wards. They excitedly wanted to know how they could help those kids.

Miss Ginny encouraged them to come up with some creative ideas. And they did! They sponsored a circus in their classroom one Sunday morning before church. They also sold tiny toys and even did chores around their homes to earn money for their Mercy Ships Fund.

In a few weeks, they presented a check for over $150 to the Mercy Ships volunteers to buy stuffed animals for the children in Togo, West Africa. "They need something to hug ," explained one of the children.

The first batch of stuffed animals was distributed to children at the Mercy Ships Hospitality Center in Lomé,Togo. People who are recuperating from surgery or awaiting surgery stay at the center. Children on crutches. . . children with serious burns, massive tumors, and cleft lips. . . tiny crying babies. . . all received their own huggable toy.

The mother of one young patient told a nurse that the toy was kept for in-the-house play only, so it wouldn't be lost or stolen. When asked if the toy was her little boy's first teddy bear, she responded, "It's the first gift he ever got !" His first gift was a gift of love from children thousands of miles away in Miss Ginny's class.

Written by Elaine B. Winn
Photo by Mercy Ships

Thursday, November 11, 2010

American Cultural Observation 475: Boy Scout Popcorn

Last year I supported the Girl Scouts and their cookie drive in the name of cultural research! This year, Thanks to a colleague's grandson (thanks Dee!), I am siding with the Boy Scouts and their popcorn drive. And boy, am I glad I did!

This fall, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts introduced a whole new lineup of Trail’s End popcorn products for their annual fundraiser – the biggest change in 30 years. Since 1980, Americans have supported Scouting with their purchases of Trail’s End microwave popcorn and ready to eat popcorn treats.

The sale this year occurs during the Boy Scouts of America’s 100th anniversary.

The popcorn sale helps pay for local Scouting programs in communities all across the country, and Scouts enjoy a great return on their sale, with more than 70% of the purchase price going to fund local Scouting.

Luckily for me, ready to eat Cheese Corn are now made with canola oil, with 0 grams trans fat and low saturated fat and all of the ready to eat products have beautiful new packaging that’s better for the environment because less packaging waste ends up in landfills. Just as well, as I opted for the Cheese Lovers Collection which contained three 8oz. packages of lip smackin', finger lickin' cheddar cheese popcorn (2) and scrumptious white cheddar cheese popcorn (1) and was I happy to see it was packaged in the ALL NEW reclosable packages.

Needless to say, there is now a trail of yellow cheesy goodness all over my keyboard!

Trail’s End is sold exclusively by Scouts in more than 280 Scout councils across the United States and Canada.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

CONNECTIONS: A Mercy Ships Update!

Come with us as we take another close look at the unique world of Mercy Ships.  Recently the Directors of the all the Mercy Ships National Offices met in the organizations International Operations Center in Texas. We asked Don Stephens to update us on how these meetings went. While in South Africa, Mercy Ships is increasing access to mental health care by enhancing the capacity of the church to meet the mental health needs of their parishioners and local communities. Dr. Lyn Westman, Mental Health Program Administrator for Mercy Ships explained it for us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Living life vicariously…

So, while having a mind numbingly quiet weekend some of my friends had quite a different time.

Gunning for Jesus!

Shannon found her inner Texan this weekend by going for shooting lessons. After a lengthy safety lesson she got chance to practice and decided that she liked the Glock 40 the best. As she was regaling us with the tale this morning we all realized that she sports the most testosterone in the office. Hands down.

Last night was Halloween and Shannon and Vangie spent the night in Hideaway with some of their friends doing their bit of treating. Trick or Treating is where costumed kids go from house to house and after ringing the doorbell and the house occupants would then offer candy after the kids scream ‘Trick or Treat’. Vangie opened the door and upped the kids by yelling ‘Trick or Treat’ as she was a bit excited. By now all four women crowded the door and started commenting on how scary one of the kid’s outfit was… They must have been a little too enthusiastic because the kid bolted. Mellisa, one of the door crowders took off after the poor kid while holding the bowl of candy yelling "don't you want some candy"?

Reclining Road Kill!

After spending the day at IKEA, Trevor was on his way home late Saturday night when he was accosted by a recliner… in the middle of Highway 110! Trevor came around the corner and hit the recliner full on! It just fell from a truck minutes before and one of the truck occupants was about to pull it out of the road when Trevor came around the corner. The truck valiantly tried to warn Trevor by flashing its head lights but it was too late. In Trevor’s words he had just a few seconds to react. He saw something that looked like a cardboard box in the middle of the road and thought that if he was to swerve he would cause more damage and might even roll his car, so he hit it instead. He knew it was more than a cardboard box when he saw an explosion of stuffing zip past the car... Needless to say the chair did not live and his car got a bit of damage. I kept on badgering Trevor by asking if he saw the recliner’s scared eyes in his headlight just before he hit it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

People Are Awesome

A compilation of awesome people doing incredible things.

Music: Mecha Love by Hadouken, out now on iTunes:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy

This past weekend I have been fortunate enough to be able to see The Mourners, a special exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art.

"The Mourners from the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy are deeply affecting works of art. Beyond their evident visual and narrative qualities, we cannot help but be struck by the emotion they convey as they follow the funeral procession, weeping, praying, singing, lost in thought, giving vent to their grief, or consoling their neighbor. Mourning, they remind us, is a collective experience, common to all people and all moments in history."
                                                  Sophie Jugie, Director, Musée des Beaux-Arts. Dijon

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Valois dukes of Burgundy ruled over extensive territories in present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands from their capital in Dijon, which during their reign became a major center of artistic patronage.

Their court's sculpture workshop, presided over by Claus Sluter and his followers, produced some of the most profound and original art of the period. The tombs of the first and second Burgundian Dukes, Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, are among the summits of their achievement. Each tomb includes in its lower register an elaborate arcade in the flamboyant gothic style, populated by a solemn processional of alabaster figures of monks and clerics that appear to circulate around the tomb as if it were a cloister. These sculptures, known as the mourners, are small-scale embodiments of late medieval devotion. Though part of a larger monument, each sculpture is a masterpiece in its own right, and each mourner is carefully individualized. While some of the figures are shown wringing their hands or drying their tears, others appear lost in solemn contemplation, while still others hide their faces in the deeply carved folds of their robes.

The ongoing expansion and renovation of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon has created the opportunity for these exceptional works to travel together to the United States. The tombs of the first and second dukes of Burgundy have been displayed since the early 19th century within the dukes' medieval palace, which now forms part of the Museum. These galleries will be renovated between 2010 and 2012, providing a first and only opportunity to present the full suite of mourners independent of the architectural framework of the tomb itself, allowing the sculptures to be viewed and appreciated as discrete works of art. While the mourners from the tomb of Philip the Bold will remain on view in another portion of the museum, those from the tomb of John the Fearless are making an unprecedented tour.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Peace Through Music

Friday night, during the Playing for Change concert in Dallas, I fell in love!

I fell in love with a 65 year old blind, black man from New Orleans and my life will never be the same again!

Grandpa Elliott and Clarence Bekker in action at the House of Blues in Dallas ( Photo - Keel)

Grandpa Elliott, born Elliot Small in 1945, also known as Uncle Remus, is a street-musician in New Orleans, Louisiana. He plays the harmonica, sings, and has been a New Orleans street icon for decades. His music and comforting presence have touched countless hearts throughout the years. When you think of the French Quarter you think of Grandpa. Many locals and frequent visitors to the Quarter consider Grandpa the saving grace and passionate force behind the revitalization of the city since Hurricane Katrina. His voice reminds us all that music can help the soul persevere through many hardships.

With a voice that tickles the soul and a harmonica that lifts the spirit, Grandpa continues to dazzle audiences from street corners to stages across the country.

He has also been on The Tonight Show and The Colbert Report. He has been a street icon on Royal Street in the French Quarter and Jackson Square in New Orleans since moving from New York City back to his place of birth in the 60's.

He performed to a crowd of more than 40,000 at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California, on June 30, 2009, playing the Star Spangled Banner on harmonica and singing God Bless America. Watch it HERE. His debut solo album, Sugar Sweet, was released November 3, 2009.

The Playing For Change Band is a group of musicians from different cultures uniting together for the common purpose of peace through music is a powerful statement. 
The Playing for Change Band
Their 2010 fall tour is highlighted by the addition of famed Senegalese guitarist Ilon Ba (Baaba Maal) to the stellar Playing For Change band which includes percussionist Mohammed Alidu (Northern Ghana), vocalist Clarence Bekker (Netherlands/Suriname), vocals/harmonica Grandpa Elliott (New Orleans), vocals/percussionist Mermans Kenkosenki (DRC Congo), guitarist Jason Tamba (Kinshasa, the capital of DRC Congo) and vocalist Titi Tsira (Gugulethu, South Africa). Watch them sing Felangaye HERE

The Playing For Change Foundation (PFCF) is dedicated to connecting the world through music by providing resources (including, but not limited to facilities, supplies, and educational programs) to musicians and their communities around the world.

Source: Wikipedia and the Playing For Change Website

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day at the Zoo!

So, who knew that I would actually enjoy going to the zoo in Tyler, Texas! Right downtown is Caldwell Zoo and boy, is it well kept!

First opened in 1953 as the Caldwell Children's Zoo, the zoo was a development of the Child Development Laboratory, operated by the Hogg Foundation and the American Association of University Women of Tyler. It was run by Mr. and Mrs. David King Caldwell, who had brought in many animals for the enjoyment of the children and eventually established into an official zoo.

David King CaldwellBy 1967 the zoo featured over 500 animals from 87 different species. In 1970, the zoo was broken into, and several animals were killed. This prompted the children of the area to collect money to help restore things. Enough money was raised for the zoo to acquire an African elephant and was the catalyst to modernize the entire zoo. The city granted them 40 acres (160,000 m2) of more land in 1976, and a large, long-term expansion project was undertaken. A new elephant enclosure was built, and giraffes were added in 1978. In 1983 a 15-acre (61,000 m2) native Texas area was opened, and in 1984 reptile and aquarium sections were opened. In 1987 major reconstruction of the African exhibits was completed, creating large pasture areas and an overlook. Throughout the 90s, more improvements were added. In 2002 a new veterinary hospital was completed, along with brooding areas, and a quarantine facility. The zoo now houses a "Wild Bird Walkabout" featuring over 400 parakeets and cockatiels. Bird, otter and penguin presentations have also expanded, allowing for the further education of the public.

Plans are also in action to expand into the unused land surrounding the current zoo, including a new glass-enclosed aviary and improved habitats for animals. There will be several new animal additions accompanying these expansions including a colony of meerkats.

The Caldwell Zoo also houses the largest African elephant in North America.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Dawn of a New Day

'The Dawn of a New Day' is a documentary by Marie-Vérité Films, directed by Ryley Grunenwald. A South African plastic surgeon gives up his private practice to provide free specialized surgeries on a hospital ship in West Africa - but at great personal cost. The film follows the surgeon, his wife in South Africa who he sees three months a year and three Beninese who want a surgery appointment along with thousands of others.

Mercy Ships Food for Life Program Celebrates World Food Day

World Food Day, celebrated on October 16th, is a worldwide event designed to increase awareness, understanding and informed year-round action to alleviate hunger. The Mercy Ships Food for Life program is also focusing on alleviating hunger by improving nutrition in some of the poorest countries in West Africa.

The Mercy Ships Food for Life program partnered with the internationally recognized non-government organization, Bethesda, to train farmers in Benin, West Africa, in organic farming methods in efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Representatives from other non-governmental organizations in other West African countries have also been trained so that they can take the knowledge to the farmers in their countries, thus creating a regional network of like-minded agriculturalists. More efficient farming methods and the selection of nutritious plants – including the moringa tree – will greatly improve health in West African communities.

The moringa tree, which is native to West Africa, is sometimes called the “miracle tree.” Thousands of years ago in India, the special qualities of the moringa tree were discovered and put to use. It may grow as much as 20 feet in one year! The leaves, seeds and flowers are edible and nutritious, and they can be used in a variety of forms, including a wonderful tea. The leaf powder has seven times the vitamin C found in oranges, four times the vitamin A in carrots, three times the iron in spinach, four times the calcium of milk, and three times the potassium of bananas. The powdered leaves – loaded with vitamins, minerals and protein – make a wonderful food supplement. Nursing mothers in Africa use it to increase milk production. In short, it is possible to survive by eating only from the moringa tree.

Research on different crops is conducted at the Mercy Ships International Operations Center in Texas. The climate there is similar to West Africa, thus providing a suitable environment to “test” crops. However, because the moringa tree can only be grown during the summer months, not enough powder could be produced to supply the needs onboard the ship. The additional supply, therefore, comes from the Centre for Ecological Development in Togo, West Africa. This is one of three private organizations partnering with the Mercy Ships Food for Life training program.

The Mercy Ships Food for Life program has been growing moringa trees for the past six or seven years and promoting its use in West African communities. Nutritionist Kelly Dahl and Agriculture Program Administrator Ken Winebark have been working together to use the health-giving moringa powder in the infant Feeding Program, and they have seen remarkable results. One infant from Liberia could not nurse properly due to a cleft lip and palate. As a result, he weighed only 6.7 pounds at 4 ½ months. His skin hung loosely over his tiny body. He and his mother were admitted to the hospital ward on the Africa Mercy. Since he was not strong enough for surgery, he became the first child to be given the moringa powder in the Infant Feeding Program. The highly nutritious moringa diet combined with loving care from volunteer nurses nurtured him to a healthy 10.5 pounds in just 3 weeks. This allowed him to have a successful surgery onboard the hospital ship to correct his cleft lip and palate…and to give him a normal life.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mercy Ships Shares the Right to Sight on a Global Scale

World Sight Day celebrates a blessing that we often taken for granted – the gift of sight. This year the focus is on eye health and equal access to care. Mercy Ships uses its state-of-the-art hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, to deliver world-class health care to some of the poorest countries in the world. Their services include Mercy Vision, an eye care program that includes land-based eye clinics as well as eye surgeries done onboard the ship.

Statistics from the World Health Organization show that most of the world’s blindness is preventable. But in many poor countries, eye care is simply not available or not accessible. For example, the West African country of Togo has a population of 6.4 million people … and only 2 hospitals. The fact that the majority of the population lives on less than $2 per day further complicates access to health care.

Komlavi, a local artist in Togo, West Africa, simply described his dilemma, saying, “I am a sculptor and a carpenter – a wood artist. I was having this eye problem for a long time, but I was unable to go to the hospital.” He needed a miracle. And, one day, that miracle literally walked into his shop.

Catherine and Marty Schwebel, volunteer Chaplains onboard the Africa Mercy, met Komlavi while they were browsing through the market. They liked him and his wooden sculptures so much that they referred all of their Mercy Ships friends to him for purchases!

A few days later, some other Mercy Ships volunteers visited Komlavi’s shop. He mentioned that he couldn't see well out of his right eye. Alana Abernathy, a member of the eye team, recalls, “I took him over into the shade where I could see into his pupil better. Sure enough, I saw one of those dense, white cataracts.” Alana knew this was a problem that Mercy Ships could definitely solve. She wrote down the location of the eye care screening and told Komlavi to come to the screening very soon.

A few days later, Marty and Catherine saw Komlavi walking up to the ship. He showed them the note that Alana had written. The Schwebels jumped into a Mercy Ships vehicle and drove Komlavi to the eye screening site. By the end of the day, he was cleared for the surgery that would restore his sight.

Komlavi’s story is encouraging, but there are many more people who desperately need eye care. According to Vision 2020, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, and 80% of blindness is treatable, curable or preventable (Vision 2020). Simple and effective strategies could address this inequity, claims Dr. Glenn Strauss. He gave up his eye practice in the US to serve fulltime with Mercy Ships as Chief of Ophthalmology and as the Vice President of Health Care Initiatives.

Since 2004, Dr. Strauss has fine-tuned a procedure for cataract removal called MSICS (Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery). The technique, which has been developed in Nepal, India, and onboard the Africa Mercy, requires no sutures. It is also cost-effective and efficient, allowing for a high-volume turnover of patients. Dr. Strauss can serve approximately 40 patients per day by using this procedure.

During a recent Mercy Ships Field Service in West Africa, over 700 patients a day lined up outside the Eye Center. To address this need, Mercy Ships also trains local doctors in the MSICS technique. For the last three years, Alcon, a faithful corporate supporter of Mercy Ships, has sponsored a fellowship program. One recipient is Dr. Abram Wodome, a native of West Africa. He and Dr. Strauss trained five additional surgeons at two hospitals in Benin. As a result, the amount of surgeries went from 320 (all 5 combined) surgeries per year to 2,000 (all five combined) surgeries per year. That’s an increase of 525%!

Gifts from faithful donors have rescued many patients like Komlavi from a world of darkness, and they have provided training for physicians like Dr. Wodome to offer hope and healing to his countrymen. Even small donations have long-lasting, and often life-transforming, effects in countries like Togo.