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.