Saturday, February 27, 2010

Finding the macabre in Houston!

Ok, so since I saw it featured in a copy of Texas Highways magazine... I have been (dying) itching to see it! Yep, The National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas.

The museum opened its doors in 1992. Mr. Robert L. Waltrip founded the Museum after 25 years of dreaming of an institution that would educate the public and preserve the rich heritage of the funeral industry. The size of a warehouse the museum offers unique exhibitions like...

Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of the Popes includes a full-scale replica of Pope John Paul II's crypt, an exact reproduction of the coffin used in the funerals of three previous Popes as well as replicas of other Papal vestments by the tailor shop that has made the vestments of the last seven Popes.

Other exhibits include Civil War Embalming (I trotted through that one quite fast, way to realistic...), a 1900 Casket Factory, Numerous Hearses and famous caskets (like the 3 person casket - ordered in 1930 by grieving parents planning their suicide pact after their young child's death - luckily they changed their mind)(or the Money Coffin - originally covered in $1000 worth of coins and notes, but sadly now only in $643 after someone stole a panel!), Fantasy Ghanaian coffins (ever wanted to be buried in a coffin shaped like a chicken?), etc...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Houston Bound!

A bit of a long entry, so buckle up and keep your feet on the inside of the vehicle!

In need of a break, I am taking a long weekend and a chance to explore some more of Texas. I am off to Houston!

I searched for a smalltown diner to have breakfast and finally found one in a tiny town called Madisonville. It knew it was going to be perfect when I cracked open the door at the Walker Cafe and EVERYONE stopped eating and looked me over. In my mind I was ready to flash my passport and say loudly... VISA, VISA - I have VISA! But, luckily I controlled myself.

I demurrely ordered coffee and it arrived in a mug with an ad for Day Funeral Home on it! I knew it was going to be a great day. And I was right!

After breakfast it was back on the road for me through small town Texas where I came across this peculiar sign... Next stop was the town of Brenham and the home of Blue Bell Creameries. Blue Bell Ice Cream is only available in about 20% of the nation’s supermarkets, it ranks as one of the top three best selling ice creams in the country. Blue Bell ice cream has also been eaten aboard the International Space Station and at Camp David.

Blue Bell retains control over all aspects of their business, primarily to ensure quality control and the use of the freshest ingredients available. The company is still family owned by the Kruses and they are famously know for stating that "the milk we use is so fresh it was grass only yesterday." The company uses milk from approximately 60,000 cows each day, and the cream used during each day's production run is always less than 24 hours old.

All production and packaging takes place within Blue Bell facilities, which are able to produce over 100 pints per minute. Drivers of delivery vehicles personally stock store shelves so that they can ensure that it is handled properly.

After touring the facility, you only get to choose ONE flavour... Let me put that in perspective... Blue Bell produces over 250 different frozen products. I was uhmming and aaahing and this poor ice cream scooper got visibly peeved at me... Finally I decided on Chocolate Covered Cherries. Oh my... It was soooo good!

Back on the road and this time I headed for Katy, Texas. One of my dreams has always been to go to China to see the amongst many this the Terracotta army. Thank God a lot closer to East Texas is the Forbidden Gardens. It is an outdoor museum of Chinese culture and history and the museum is funded privately by a Chinese businessman named Ira Poon who is interested in sharing his country's history.

Forbidden Gardens takes its name from two of its major features: A 1:20 scale model of the Forbidden City with hundreds of palace buildings and figurines under a 40,000-square-foot (3,700 m2) pavilion, and the small grounds for walking and viewing additional exhibits.

Additional exhibits include a detailed panorama of a scholarly retreat called Lodge of the Calming of the Heart, an outdoor array of 6,000 one-third scale soldiers and chariots from the Terracotta Army tomb of the first Emperor of Qin, an indoor panorama of a city called the Venice of China (Suzhou), and rooms exhibiting details of historical architecture and weapons.

Forbidden Gardens is unusual in that it is privately funded, displays extensive models made and shipped from China, and gives a unique view and experience of one of the most interesting times in medieval Chinese history. It originally cost $40 million to construct and only 40 of the 80 acres (320,000 m2) Poon bought are currently being used. The Terracotta Army display is unique in that the statues are exposed to direct sunlight, unlike the sheltered originals, enabling excellent photography conditions.

The terracotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by some local farmers near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China near the Mausouleum of the First Qin Emperor. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. Many archeologists believe that there are many pits still waiting to be discovered.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

American Cultural Observation 112 : Some More Girl Scout Cookies

Do-Si-Dos Cookies
Crisp and crunchy oatmeal cookies with creamy peanut butter filling. Claims not to contain any artificial colour or flavour. Yeah, more peanut butter. NOT a fan! Oh and according to Deb in Information Services, this is the cookie to dip in coffee. I stand corrected Deb. So, the experimentation for this round of cookies was done while in a meeting. I kept finding myself reaching for the Do-Si-Does and then Shannon, a colleague of mine, would shout frustrated across the table “Don’t take that – its peanut butter” time after time. Annoying at the time but funny now. Oh, some more feedback on peanut butter conundrum... btw, I'm an American who now hates peanut butter - working on the AFM dining room staff has caused me to hate peanut butter because I have to wash the dishes that people seem to get PB from the jar and paint (or dip) every dish in PB - then we have to get the sticky stuff off. March 15th - that is the date I stop washing dishes! :) I feel with you Marty! I washed dishes on the Anastasis too for many a long month... Worse is trying to get Marmite off the plates!

Trefoils Cookies
A simple yet delicate-tasting old fashioned shortbread. Quite a satisfying and unassuming cookie that is quite filling and lovely with a cup of tea I am sure. Staple cookie you can trust. The cookie to keep in a tornado shelter. Did you know that Scottish shortbread evolved from medieval biscuit bread, which was a twice-baked, enriched bread roll dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a Rusk (soft, sweetened biscuit). Eventually butter was substituted for yeast, and shortbread was born. Since butter was such an important ingredient, the word "shortbread" derived from shortening. Shortbread may have been made as early as the 12th Century, however its invention is often attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th Century. Now tell me your noggin does not feel enriched!

Cookie Fun Facts!

• Little Brownie bakes over 4,500,000 Thin Mints Girl Scout Cookies per day during peak baking times.
• Little Brownie makes their own caramel for Samoas®. It‘s cooked the old fashion way in copper kettles to 234 degrees.
• Do-si-dos® and Tagalongs® take 230,000 lbs. of peanut butter per week.
• Peanut butter crème is deposited onto Do-si-do® cookies at the rate of 2800 per minute.
• After exiting the oven, Thin Mints travel 300 feet on a conveyer belt to cool before being coated in the chocolate.
• A rotary die shapes Trefoils. There are 300 identical Trefoil shapes engraved in one rotary die. The die rotates 17 times a minute equaling 5100 cookies a minute.
• Samoas® go through a cooling tunnel at 40-50 degrees before chocolate is applied.
• Do-si-dos® are wrapped at 64 packages per minute!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Samoas and Tagalongs

Samoas! Tender vanilla cookies, covered with caramel, rolled in toasted coconut, and striped with a rich, chocolaty coating. Samoas from now on should be called the Jesus cookie! OH MY GOODNESS! Is it possible to fall in love with a cookie? I think I just did. Chewy and crunchy, giving you time to savour its complexities. Like chewing on a piece of coconut while bogged down in quick sand... Feeling both the sun on your cheek with the sea breeze in your hair but simultanously knowing you are about to die...

Tagalongs! Tasty cookies topped with creamy peanut butter and covered with a luscious chocolaty coating. According to Deb in Information Services it is best dipped in a hot drink for a split second. Don't care much for this one. I mean the cookie, not Deb in Information Services!

What is it with the American facination to cover their peanut butter with chocolate! While we are on the subject... what is with their urge to dip their bananas in Peanut Butter or to eat it with Ritz Biscuits (Yes Valerie, I am talking to you!) and then to call it lunch.

As a follow up to yesterday's Thin Mints... NUMEROUS people have adviced me that you have to put it in the freezer first and then eat it when frozen.

Tomorrow, Do-si-dos and Trefoils!

Monday, February 22, 2010

American Cultural Observation 112 : Girl Scout Cookies

Continuing on my quest to try and understand America better I am about to break into another bastion of American culture… Girl Scout Cookies! Yep, I am eagerly looking forward to this one! I got my hands on the mother load and will steadily (for the good of mankind!) work my way through them and will let you know what I find out!

Girl Scout Cookies are a familiar part of American culture. For more than 80 years, Girl Scouts, with the enthusiastic support of their families, have helped ensure the success of local Girl Scout Cookie activities. From its earliest beginnings to its current popularity, the sale of cookies has helped Girl Scouts have fun, develop valuable life skills and make the world a better place by helping to support Girl Scouting in their communities. Girls are proud that their efforts provide resources for their local Girl Scout councils and for their own Girl Scout troops/groups.

The first box I am cracking open – and only because I have two of them – is the Thin Mints: Thin, mint-flavored chocolate wafers dipped in a chocolate coating. I agree it is a mint flavored wafery cookie dipped in chocolate. HIGHLY addictive and should come with a warning on the box. I offered it around the office and EVERYONE took some, my research here is a bit muddy. Is it because the cookies are indeed yummy, or just because it was 11.30 in the morning and everyone was hungry. It is a pretty high 160 calories for only 4 cookies, but hey, NO cholesterol! Admittedly I fell off the wagon and had more than my daily allowance and scarfed 6 cookies while doing ‘research’. Come on people, I helped a girl scout attain courage, confidence and character while losing my own!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mediatating on Isaiah 58

I have been praying and meditating a lot this last few months as to what God wants me to do for the future, do I stay in the US, do I return to the ship or do I attempt going to Mercy Ships South Africa...

I keep coming back to Isaiah 58:10-11

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Okay, we all know that Isaiah preached hope! For me hope is the lifeblood of the message and as so often in the Old Testament, this hope is expressed through beautiful poetic images. Is it because hope transcends reality. I think we need to sometimes transcend our reality. Reality can be grinding. We need to believe in something bigger and better and more beautiful, especially when we’re tired and close to being burned out. Luckily, I believe that Isaiah was a great poet. Let me highlight the poetry that he offered.

“Your light shall rise in the darkness!” That almost sounds like advent doesn’t it? Well, believe me, but this was advent in the truest sense. Advent means “arrival”! This was a true Advent moment when the exiles returned to Jerusalem. They were still surrounded by darkness, their depression stemming from a broken community and the uncertainties surrounding their future. But there was hope, proclaimed by the prophets. Now they struck a different tone, one of comfort and hope: “Listen, people: Your light shall rise in the darkness!”

“You shall be like a watered garden.” Can you see how easily this image relates to people. This is my cry to God for my soul, for life as it surely feel parched and dry.

So where does this all leads to?

I know I am staying in the field but where... Here, West Africa or South Africa. I need more guidance Lord, and a map might help too! Please keep me in your prayers.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Are You Listening (A Love Song for Haiti)

Gospel Music Channel, Kirk Franklin, Jeremy Camp, Mary Mary and more friends

Connections: A Mercy Ships Update

We have updated the look and feel of the Alumni Report and proudly offer it to you. In our latest webisode, our host, Dr. Andy Rosson, continues to bring us news from the unique world of Mercy Ships. This month, he brings us news from Tenerife, interviews Donna Rayborn - an Alum who recently returned from a Mercy Team trip and concludes with Sam Smith, CEO explaining our goals for the Africa Mercy's next field service in Togo.

Nda - To Go

This week's featured video was recorded in South Africa and features three of the members of the Playing For Change Band (Mermans Kenkosenki, Jason Tamba, and Louis Mhlanga). The song is titled, "Nda" which means "To go." It was written by Jason in response to the vision of his mother back in Congo telling him to move on and find a better life. So much trouble in the world, yet somehow we must go from the darkness to light as a human race. I hope you enjoy the video and more importantly feel the connection in your heart.