Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Trip to London & Ireland: Part 1

On September 3, 2016, my sister Lisa and I set out on a journey I had dreamed of most of my life, but never really thought would happen.

We were off on a 10-day trip to first London, then Dublin, which would be our home base for some amazing day trips into the Irish countryside.

The trip was a Christmas 2015 gift from loved ones, so we had been planning it and talking about it for months.  Finally, the day was here!

The first leg of our journey took us from Chicago's O'Hare airport to the Charlotte, North Carolina airport.  We decided to exchange some American money for some British cash.  This was really starting to feel real.  We had money with Queen Elizabeth on it!

We thought we were prepared for the overnight flight to Heathrow.  We wore our most comfortable clothes and took Xanax, which normally makes us sleepy.

Turns out, there's no real way to be comfortable for eight hours on a plane.  We estimate that we each got about 3 hours at the most.  But when we woke up, we were in England!

Off on the tube

We reclaimed our baggage (they call it baggage re-claim, not baggage claim!) and went through customs fairly easily.  Our next step: getting an Oyster Pass for transportation, and finding our way onto the right train in London's underground that would take us all the way to Picadilly Circus, where our hotel was located.

Not all of the trip is underground, and we were charmed by the British neighborhoods we zoomed past.  It was so obvious we were in a different country.

When we arrived at Picadilly, our first problem was lugging our luggage (no pun intended) up the stairs to the outside.  We were doing this rather awkwardly and with difficulty when two men came along to help us! This wasn't the first time we would be charmed by the gallantry of British men.

I'll never forget our first glimpse of London when we emerged from the tube station.

We were smack in the middle of Picadilly circus.  We were awed. Lisa says if someone had taken our picture at that moment, our mouths were probably wide open.  London looks like on other place you've ever been.  It's hard to explain. We were gobsmacked.

After one scary moment when Lisa thought she lost her luggage (it had simply rolled away from her while we were getting our bearings), we made the very short distance to our hotel, Le Meridien Picadilly.

Pretty sure this was my first London selfie.  Any Dr. Who fan will get the significance of the police call box!
Off to explore!

The hotel staff couldn't have been more gracious and welcoming.  Even though it was a good bit before check-in time, they said our room was ready for us.

Oh, the joy of a shower when you've been on a plane all night! We were refreshed, though tired, and ready to head out to the streets of London.

I hadn't really planned any sightseeing for that day, because I knew we would basically be exhausted.  However, everyone had told us NOT to go straight to bed.  They said it's best to just keep going, and then go to bed at a fairly normal time.

Trafalgar Square
Looking for the London Pass Office

Job One was to find the office home of the London Pass.  We had bought our passes before leaving the US, but you had to go to the office to get your voucher.  (This pass turned out to be one of the best decisions we made for our visit, and we highly recommend it.)

The office was supposed to be somewhere right off Trafalgar Square.  We found Trafalgar with no trouble, and were both blown away by it.  Finding the office was a bit more of a chore.

I couldn't use GPS, because I could only use the internet on my phone if I had WiFi.  Lisa was supposed to be able to use hers, but it never worked correctly throughout our entire trip.  We have no idea why.

Going around in circles looking for this office while we were jetlagged, exhausted and by now, hungry, was an exercise in frustration.  FINALLY we found it and got our vouchers.

We had no idea where to eat, and stumbled on a place called EAT that looked a little like a British version of Panera Bread.  Alas, neither of us (even though we're not really picky eaters) were pleased with what we got.  In fact, we were very disappointed and ended up eating only a few bites.

Also, I had picked up a bottle of "spring water" thinking it was just regular bottled water.  No, it was more of a seltzer, which I'm not a fan of.  Turns out if you want regular water you have to look for the ones labeled "still water."

This did not bode well for our meals in London.  But we needn't have worried.  That was pretty much the only bad eating experience we had on our trip.  We had some truly delicious meals in the days to come.

To bed!

I think we visited a few shops, including Boots, a drugstore somewhat like our Walgreen's. We got some soft drinks and snack items and headed back to our very nice and comfortable hotel room.

It was still fairly early in the evening, but I was soooo ready for bed.  We turned in early (probably the wisest thing we could do....we were so exhausted by this time), excited about what the next day would bring.

More to come!

Friday, July 01, 2016

What if you weren't allowed to appreciate beauty? (Thoughts on a movie)

Christian Bale as John Preston in Equilibrium 

Recently I watched a movie called Equilibrium that made a huge impression on me.

Wikipedia sums it up:

The film follows John Preston (Christian Bale), an enforcement officer in a future in which both feelings and artistic expression are outlawed and citizens take daily injections of drugs to suppress their emotions. After accidentally missing a dose, Preston begins to experience emotions, which makes him question his own morality and moderate his actions while attempting to remain undetected by the suspicious society in which he lives.
You know how some movies just really make you think? That's what Equilibrium did for me...I found myself thinking about it long after I finished watching it.

Feelings and emotions were outlawed because emotions can lead to anger and hate, which can lead to war.  But suppressing all feeling came at such a cost!

No feelings or emotions allowed

Living in a society where any feelings were outlawed has so many implications.  The characters had to have opaque screens over their windows, so they couldn't even appreciate the beauty of rain falling.

No books.  No music.  No artwork of any kind.  Just a bland, dark, colorless, emotionless existence.

 When Bale as John Preston makes the decision to stop taking the injections that allowed him to be emotionless, it was extremely interesting to watch the changes that began taking place in him.

He went from stoic sternness to being affected by things.  At one point, dogs are being slaughtered (apparently animals might cause emotions in the humans).

A dog runs up to Bale, and Bale picks him up.  You can see in the picture that he doesn't know what to do with the emotions that the puppy produces, especially when he licks Bale trustingly.

Bale gives some excuse and keeps the dog, saving him from the slaughter.

When exploring a hidden apartment full of normal (read: contraband) things, Bale becomes overwhelmed when listening to a recording of a classical composer (I forget which one.)

Can you imagine hearing music for the first time? Can you imagine NEVER being allowed to hear music?

The leaders of that fictional society were right...feelings and emotions cause hate and anger, which leads to war.  But they also cause beauty, charity and joy.

No spoiler intended, but thankfully the movie ends on a hopeful note.  It really affected me and made me ponder on some things.

And it literally made me glad for all the countless incidents of beauty, feeling and emotion I'm allowed to experience on a daily basis.  Thank you, God, for giving us such an incredible, rich and amazing treasure trove!

(Note--if you decide to watch this movie yourself [it's on Neflix] there is quite a bit of violence in it.)

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Five of My Favorite Hymns

photo source
My musical taste is wide and varied, but I confess, I do love hymns.  There's something majestic and soul-stirring about the great old hymns.  I believe they lend themselves to worship in a very real way.

Like many Christians, I'm concerned that the hymns are being lost in the avalanche of modern praise songs.  While I have nothing against those, I believe we still need to be singing the hymns.  Children need to be familiar with them.

Yes, the language can sometimes be a bit archaic, but it's worth it to delve into the meanings.

(Joni Eareckson Tada has written a book the encourages parents to introduce the great hymns of the faith to their children.  You may want to check out Hymns for a Kid's Heart if you're interested.)

Here are five of my favorite hymns...

And Can it Be?

This is definitely my favorite hymn of all time.  The words, by John Wesley's brother, Charles Wesley, paint a vivid picture of a prisoner set free.

"Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee."

In  The English Hymn: A Critical and Historical Study, J.R. Watsons
 said of Wesley:

“Charles Wesley's hymns are forceful because they contain so many words which are physical: for him the life of a Christian was to be experienced in the body as well as in the soul.” 
Here's a pretty arrangement of the song.

Great is Thy Faithfulness

photo source

Here's a beautiful rendition of this stirring hymn.

Be Thou My Vision

This hymn can claim honors as being one of the oldest hymns in existence, as its roots go all they way back to 6th century Ireland.

It has a haunting, Celtic feel to it that I love.  The words are also wonderful:

"Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all."

Here's one of the many beautiful versions you can find on YouTube.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation

There's just something about this hymn that I love, especially to sing with a congregation.  I love the tune, but also the words:

"Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
  the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy
  health and salvation!
    All ye who hear,
Now to His temple draw near;
Sing now in glad adoration!"

Here's a really, really beautiful a cappella version.

It is Well with My Soul

photo source

Last on this list, but definitely not least! This confident assertion of faith in God, no matter what your circumstances, is a song every Christian should know (in my humble opinion.)

I love lifting my voice in worship with this hymn along with a congregation at church.  Few things are more soul-stirring!

The lyrics by Horatio Spafford are even more meaningful if you read the story behind them

Check out this beautiful rendition by David Phelps...

This is by no means an exhaustive list of my favorite hymns. That would make for a very lengthy blog post.  However, that's just of a few of my favorites.

Do you have any favorite hymns?  Please let me know in my comments section.

Also, if you aren't familiar with hymns, I encourage you to give them a chance.  Step out of your box for a bit, and I believe you'll be blessed.

Monday, May 23, 2016

5 Reasons You Should Go to Washington, DC

Probably my favorite of the pics I took in Washington DC on my recent trip

For many of us Americans, the phrase "Washington DC" leaves a bad taste in our mouths.  We picture big government encroaching on our lives and sleazy, dishonest politicians.

If that's your image of Washington DC, try pushing it to the side.  If you've never gone, you need to go to Washington D.C.  I recently returned from my fourth trip to our nation's capital, and I'm more in love with it than ever.

Here are five reasons you need to go, in no particular order.

1) To experience the beauty. The capital is simply beautiful.  The incredible architecture, the landscaping, the grace and dignity of the buildings and vistas and bodies of water.  If you love beauty, you need to see Washington DC.

At one of my favorite monuments, the Thomas Jefferson
The Washington Monument by night

2) The monuments and memorials. I would have a hard time pinpointing my favorite monuments in DC.  The Lincoln Memorial may be at the top of the list.  There is a palpable serenity in viewing the statue of Lincoln up close, taking in the grace of the man and his writings. And everyone should sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gaze at the reflecting pool leading to the Washington Monument.  

I visited the World War 2 Memorial for the first time this trip, and I was bowled over.  We went at night, when the fountains and architecture were spectacularly lit.  We sat in awe for some time, giving honor to those who died to insure our freedom. 

Visiting these monuments and memorials gives one a deeper, personal appreciation for the philosophies that formed our nation.  As for the men who are memorialized? Their belief in God is there...literally engraved in stone.

The World War Two Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background

3) Arlington Cemetery.

Tomb of the Unknowns

Garden of the Arlington House, once owned by Robert E. Lee

If you are any kind of a patriot, you need to see this vast expanse of land, dotted by the small white tombstones that guard the final resting places of so many people who gave their lives for our freedom.  It's impossible not to be moved.  

While there, you must see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  The military precision and quiet dignity of the rite is remarkable.

A glimpse of the gorgeous architecture at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

4) The Holocaust Museum. I believe every American needs to experience this incredible museum.  It chronicles the Holocaust from beginning to end, and it's truly an emotional experience.  Going through this museum, it's ludicrous to think that there are some who believed the massive slaughter of a race of people didn't really happen. You'll never look at the Holocaust, or World War Two itself, in the same way.

5) The Smithsonians. You would probably need weeks to do justice to this group of museums and galleries.  We hit only a few of them, but were impressed and educated.  Best of all, admission is free (ditto the Holocaust Museum and of course, all the memorials.)  The array of knowledge and culture on exhibit in these museums is simply stunning.

At the National Gallery of Art

*All pictures (except the ones I'm in) taken by me.*

Sunday, April 24, 2016

10 Things About Those Home Renovation Shows

Drew and Jonathan, the charming Property Brothers

I have to admit, I'm a big fan of home renovation shows.  I just recently blogged about my addiction to Fixer Upper.  I've been known to binge-watch House Hunters Renovation, Property Brothers and Love it or List It, too.

Having watched so many episodes of these shows, I've learned a thing or two.  I thought I'd just share some of my observations...maybe you've noticed these things too?

Here we go...

1. Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances are going to go out of style at some point, and in fact may already be doing so. I'm amazed when prospective buyers on these shows literally make fun of, and call "dated," kitchens and bathrooms that would have been considered gorgeous just a short time ago. 

I don't know if I'll ever be able to redo my kitchen, but if so, I'm going to be so nervous about spending a ton of money on something that will look dated in a few years.

2. Whenever I see wallpaper being added to a home, I inwardly groan. Even though some of it is truly beautiful . You would too, if you've ever had to remove any. And it's going to feel dated in no time. Please, just step away from the wallpaper!

This is fairly close to the wallpaper border I had on the soffit in my kitchen.  Cute idea in  2005, then it began to remind me of the kitchen on TV's "The Middle." It was murder to take down!

3. Same with people who commit to surfaces in bold colors, like a massive amount of green marble I saw on one kitchen reno. You WILL get tired of that color.

4. On "Love it or List It" and "Love it or List It Too," Hilary or Jillian need to tell the homeowners right off the bat, "I'm going to need at least 50-thousand dollars more than you're giving me for renovations. Because there WILL be a catastrophic problem. Termites, dry rot, asbestos, leakage, faulty name it, there WILL be a massive problem that will threaten the entire renovation, so just fork it over right now."

5 After the Catastrophic Problem is revealed to the home owners, they will always walk away saying "I just don't trust Jillian to be able to handle this" and/or "This is why we need to move out!"

6. If I had a dollar for every time someone says "Oh my God" during the dramatic reveal, I'd have enough money to renovate my home. Even after Jillian finds the Catastrophic Problem.

7 These shows are SO formulaic! Especially Love it or List it. Show after show, it's almost like they're reading from the same script .

8.  Who EVER thought popcorn ceilings were a good idea? How did that become a thing?

9.  It's interesting to watch the dynamics of the married couple on the shows.  You can almost always tell who is going to get their way, and who is going to concede.

10. The Property Brothers are adorable . End of story.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Ten Bible Baby Names You May Have Overlooked

My newest grandson, Landon
(It's Friday, so maybe you'll forgive me if I post one from the archives! This was originally posted March 2014).
The Bible has always contained a wealth of inspiration for baby names, and people have been taking advantage of it for hundreds of years.  

Take Michael, which has been on the list of top baby names for decades, and was still at number 14 in 2013.  

Bible names in the top 20 for boys in 2013 included Noah, Ethan, Jacob, Benjamin, Michael, Caleb, Lucasand for girls, Abigail.

If you're a Bible-loving Christian,you may turn to God's Word for inspiration in naming your baby, or you may just love the sound and meaning of Bible names.

Here are 10 Bible names you may have overlooked in your search, but they're definitely worthy of consideration:

In the 2010 Iranian movie "The Kingdom of Solomon," Adonijah is the character on the left


Adonijah was a son of King David.   The name Adonijah means "The Lord is my master."

My reason for including it on this list? I just think it sounds cool, especially if you're not afraid of long names. :)


Asher was one of the twelve sons of Jacob in the Bible.

I first became aware of it as a modern given name back in the 70's, when Chaim Potok's book My Name is Asher Lev was published.

From Wikipedia:

The book's protagonist is Asher Lev, a Hasidic Jewish boy in New York City. Asher is a loner with artistic inclinations. His art, however, causes conflicts with his family and other members of his community. The book follows Asher's maturity as both an artist and a Jew.

More recently, My Name is Asher Lev has been staged as an off-Broadway play.

I've heard it mentioned more lately as a potential baby name, perhaps partly because of the popularity of names like Ashton.


Benaiah was a pretty awesome person in the Bible.  The meaning of his name is "Yahweh builds up."

This from Wikipedia:

(Benaiah) was the son of the priest Jehoiada and David's general for the army of the Kingdom of Israel and his chief bodyguard (2 Samuel 23:20). The stories of him follow that he once killed an Egyptian with the Egyptian's own spear and a club. He was also said to have killed a lion in a snowy pit.
He was one of David's "mighty men" (1 Chronicles 27:6) who commanded the Cherethites and Pelethites. He was renowned for his heroism.
Interestingly, Benaiah was responsible for executing Adonijah after Adonijah was involved in a revolt.

The Biblical character of Benaiah  is the protagonist in Cliff Graham's book, Day of War, pictured above. I haven't read it, but several reviewers on give it high praise and say it's faithful to the Biblical story.


From Ohbabynames:

A lot of people are unaware of the fact that Damaris is a Biblical name. She appears briefly in the New Testament (Acts of the Apostles 17:34) as a woman who listened to the Apostle Paul give a thundering speech in Athens to the pagan Athenians, preaching Jesus and the Resurrection.

While many of the Athenians mocked the resurrection of the dead; others were eager to hear more. Damaris is specifically mentioned as a woman who “joined [Paul] and believed”.

What’s noteworthy about the recording of Damaris’s name in the New Testament is that it provides evidence of her high-standing and education (not many women were invited to speeches given at the Areopagus in Athens circa 50 A.D.).
You can choose how you want to pronounce it.  The name has turned up as DAM-aris, Da-MARE-is, and Da-MAHR-is.

Suspense writer Victoria Holt, who also wrote as Phillippa Carr, included characters named Damaris in Kirkland Revels and The Song of the Siren.  

Damaris Carbaugh, pictured above, is a Christian singer who sometimes sings with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  She was named after Damaris in the Bible.


Hadassah is the Hebrew form of the name Esther.  The name can be interepreted to mean either "compassion" or "myrtle tree."

I had heard of the name, but it really came into focus for me when I read Francine Rivers' incredible Mark of the Lion series.  Hadassah is a main character.  She's pictured above on the cover of the first book in the series, A Voice in the Wind.  I highly recommend it.

Actor Jude Law

Judah or Jude

In the book of Genesis, Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, and founder of the tribe of Judah.  The name literally means "thankgiving" or "praise."

From Wikipedia:

Although Judah is only the fourth son of Leah, he is expressly depicted in Genesis as assuming a leadership role among the 10 eldest brothers, including speaking up against killing Joseph, negotiating with his father regarding Joseph's demand that Benjamin be brought down to Egypt, and pleading with Joseph after the latter secretes the silver cup into Benjamin's bag.
Jude was one of the twelve apostles, and also the name of one of Jesus' brothers.   The name has the same meaning as Judah.


Jamin is the name of three minor Bible characters.  The first is a son of Simeon, one of Jacob and Leah's sons.

The meaning of the name is "right hand of favor."

According to Wikipedia, the name belongs to American football player  Jamin Elliott (born 1979), American wrestler Jamin Olivencia (born 1985), and American filmmaker, writer, editor and composer Jamin Winans.  


If you've read the Psalms in the King James Version, you'll have seen this word many times inserted in a psalm.

The word is believed to be either a musical mark, a musical interlude or an instruction to pause and think about what's being said.

The Christian singing group Selah pronounces it "SAY-la."  However, actress Sela Ward was named after the Bible word, and her name is pronounced "SEE-la," so it would be a matter of your preference.


Recently in my Bible reading, this woman's name popped up seemingly out of nowhere in a long genealogy (I Chronicles 7:24). Women aren't often mentioned in Bible geneologies, but the text mentions that she built two towns.

The name means "a song" or "poetry."
From this website:
Sheerah was obviously an influential woman, and probably wealthy. She built and established the towns of Upper and Lower Horon.  These towns were built in a strategic location and went on to have a long history.  Sheerah even built a town that bears her name: Uzzen Sheerah.  She was probably a leader of the towns she established.
Sheerah is just one example of a Bible woman who had a prominent position of authority and influence.  And, as with other Bible women with authority, there is no hint that this was inappropriate or improper, or that anyone had a problem with it.
More about Sheerah here.

 The female names Sherah and Serah are also found in the Bible.


Shiloh is actually a place name in the Bible, but the name Shiloh has been given to both boys and girls.  

In the United States the name has associations with the Southern United States due to the Battle of Shiloh, a battle during the United States Civil War, and to many towns named Shiloh in southern states, which were usually named after the town in the Bible. 
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie named their first biological daughter Shiloh Nouvel.  Men with the name include American actor Shiloh Fernandez and football player Shiloh Keo.

Have you come across, or named your baby, a cool or unique Bible name?  Or do you know of anyone who has these names?  Let me know in my comments!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What you might not know about pecans

Photo source
Today is National Pecan Day! That fact immediately made me think of my late mother, who loved pecans.  A little Google research yielded some fun facts about this popular nut.

(Side note: how do you pronounce pecan?  I say it as "pe-CAHN," but I know some people go for "pe-CANN, or even PEE-cann.)

Thanks to the website,  here are some fun facts about pecans:

"Texas adopted the pecan tree as its state tree in 1919. In fact, Texas Governor James Hogg liked pecan trees so much that he asked if a pecan tree could be planted at his gravesite when he died."

From "Texas Trading Post,"a site that sells all kinds of fun Texas stuff
"Albany, Georgia, which boasts more than 600,000 pecan trees, is the pecan capital of the U.S. Albany hosts the annual National Pecan Festival, which includes a race, parade, pecan-cooking contest, the crowning of the National Pecan Queen and many other activities. 
"There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans. Many are named for Native American Indian tribes, including Cheyenne, Mohawk, Sioux, Choctaw and Shawnee. 
"Some the larger pecan shellers process 150,000 pounds of pecans each day. That’s enough to make 300,000 pecan pies! 
"The U.S. produces about 80 percent of the world’s pecan crop.
Before a shelled pecan is ready to be sold, it must first be cleaned, sized, sterilized, cracked and finally, shelled."
How do you like your pecans?

My sister Beverly got me into eating yogurt with pecans mixed in.  Yummy!

Of course, there's pecan pie...which is delectable, but I rarely eat it because of its extremely high calorie count, and I'm not a piemaker.

Both my parents loved pecan pralines. Some Mexican restaurants in Texas have them at the cash register to buy as the perfect end of a delicious TexMex meal.

If you'd like to make your own, I found this recipe.

They're good for you!

If you just want to grab a handful of pecans to snack on, or add to your cereal or yogurt. you can do so knowing that they're benefitting your heart!

Again, from

"Pecans are now designated as heart-healthy when enjoyed as part of a healthy eating pattern by the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Certification Program (
'Pecans stay with you longer than high carbohydrate snacks that your body burns through quickly,” said Vickie Mabry, NPSA Executive Director. “With antioxidants as well as a tender texture, rich buttery flavor and gentle crunch, pecans make an ideal snack choice for everyone,' she added."


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