Thursday, December 16, 2010

Share a What?

I'm continually fascinated by the peculiarities of British vs. American vocabulary -- or as someone put it, the fact that we are 'divided by a common language.'
My most recent discovery came from an American friend who had just recently returned from a trip to the UK. He heard a fine, upstanding Christian woman state that, after church on Sundays, they like to invite a few people home with them to 'share a joint.'
Knowing that certain standards can vary from one culture to another regarding things such as alcohol and tobacco, for example, my friend didn't dare react too strongly -- but as open-minded as he was, he had a hard time picturing this lady passing around a reefer after church.
It turns out, as you British readers must be smiling right now, that a "joint" refers to a cut of meat, such as a shoulder of ham or perhaps a leg of lamb.

I'd love to hear your stories about linguistic laughs within the English language -- please share them in the comment section!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy Sinterklaas Day

In the Netherlands (where we lived five years), Belgium, and numerous other European countries, today is known as Sinterklaasdag, or St. Nicholas Day. In the Dutch-speaking countries in particular, children will have set out a pair of traditional wooden clogs on the doorstep for Sinterklaas to come along and fill them with goodies.
St. Nicholas is regarded as the patron saint of the city of Amsterdam, as well as of children and sailors. He is a beloved personage who traces his roots to an actual historical figure -- Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (read my post on the role of Nicholas in the history of Santa Claus here).
In modern times, the celebration of Sinterklaas has lost its Christian significance (though Christmas has not for many) -- it is simply a time to celebrate and give gifts. In fact, more gifts are exchanged on Sinterklaas Day than at Christmas.
In Amsterdam, the day includes a parade where Sinterklaas appears -- supposedly from Spain -- with an entourage of mischievous, black-faced helpers called Zwarte Pieten, reminders of the Moorish influence in medieval Spain. In the Middle Ages, "Zwarte Piet" (meaning Black Pete) was a nickname for the devil; St. Nicholas, having triumphed over the devil, subjugated the little devils, so to speak, into his service.
Vrolijke Sinterklaasdag! (Happy Sinterklaas Day!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Impulse to Thank

Since before recorded history began, man has had an instinct to thank. Most often, this looked like what you and I would likely label superstition: the top 3 recipients of thanks would probably be ancestors, invisible spirits or deities, and nature -- whether the stars, the universe, or Mother Earth.

Not that thanks is necessarily an innate habit we practice on a regular basis. It's frankly rare to find someone who has a continual "attitude of gratitude." But when something goes particularly well, when the outcome of a dicey situation is the one we were hoping for, or, as if often the case with me, when we're overwhelmed by beauty, we find ourselves wanting to thank...something, someone.

It's even built into our language, although long gone are the days when the spontaneous expression "Thank God!" was always meant literally. Those who are uncomfortable uttering the name of a deity substitute "goodness" or "lucky stars." The point is, it's practically impossible to escape at least an occasional sense of thankfulness.

For my part, even in the seasons of my life where I was determined to carry a grudge against God because my life didn't look like I wanted it to, I have found myself unwittingly thanking him for a sunset that took my breath away. Or sons who are wise enough to choose amazing young wives for themselves.Or a Discovery Channel documentary that showcases the exquisite marvels of the planet we live on. And no matter how I have felt toward God at any given moment, I have personally never been able to thank the Big Bang for these things. It is a goal of mine to be thankful a whole lot more of the time; in the meantime, I'm just a part time God thanker.

Coming up is a day that was set aside by President Lincoln (see my post on the history of Thanksgiving here) specifically to give thanks for our blessings. While some may ignore the thanksgiving part and just enjoy the food, football or family part -- and others may care nothing about the day and resent the fact that everything is closed -- I will be glad there is a day we are reminded that there is always something to be grateful for. And once we start listing the blessings, it may actually be difficult to stop.

Thank God.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Paramedics Urgently Needed in Haiti

As you have undoubtedly heard, Haiti, as if its other ordeals weren't enough, has been hit by an outbreak of cholera -- the first such outbreak in the Western Hemisphere since a 1991 epidemic in Peru that spread to 16 other countries. Over a thousand victims have died already, with almost 17,000 hospitalized. If the epidemic continues unchecked, the ramifications could be on a level rarely seen in our generation.

Paramedics are urgently needed. My contact with Hope Force International, a Nashville-based relief agency, says responders must have a current EMT-P license -- EMT's cannot be accepted at this time.
Please help us spread the word. Those interested can contact Christine Thompson at 

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Hallows E'en

Halloween, primarily celebrated in English-speaking countries, is a bizarre mixture of traditions from different periods of history. Over the last couple of decades, marketers have attempted to spread this Anglo-Saxon tradition to other countries, with varying degrees of success. When we lived in Europe, there was an increasing interest in certain aspects of Halloween, but is has never caught on to the extent to which it is celebrated in the US.

No one knows for sure when the tradition began, but most historians agree it traces its origins to a Celtic celebration called Samhain, whose names roughly means 'summer's end.' It was believed that, at this time of year in particular, there was a thin line between this world and the "otherworld," allowing different kinds of spirits to come and go. Hence the necessity to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit in order to ward off harm.

What is ironic is the origin of the name Halloween -- originally All Hallows E'en -- as in the eve of All Hallows, or All Saints Day. All Saints Day has been celebrated on Nov. 1 by the Catholic church, and more recently, other denominations as well, since the 7th century. This is traditionally a day in which the saints -- known and unknown -- are remembered.

Another great example of the strange juxtaposition in our culture of Christian and pagan elements. On one day, inordinate attention is given to the dark side, the Underworld -- and the very next day the saints are honored. The term "melting pot" could not be more à propos.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Voting in the Streets

People outside France -- and even some French -- shake their heads every time a general strike is announced. It seems it takes very little for malcontents to take to the streets in what is often called the French national pastime. 

At issue this time is the proposed change in the retirement age from 60 to 62. Americans just smirk and mutter something like, "Those lazy French! A 35-hour work week isn't enough?" while millions of French are up in arms, with unions leading the way in the strikes. Strikes are not a new phenomenon in France; as far back as the French Revolution, we see that the French way of expressing dissent is to take to the streets.

Whatever the work ethic of the French, it's more a matter of what one is used to. Chances are, most of us, if used to retirement benefits at age 60, would not be happy when they were taken away. Such austerity measures are being contested all over Europe, as the Old Continent feels the pain of years of social benefits, many of which are being debated in the US. There are those who say, "As Europe goes, so goes the US;" it will be interesting to watch in the next few years whether social benefits in the US are extended, only to have to be withdrawn later.

There was just such a strike while we were there this past summer with the World to the Wise Cultural Tour. Surprisingly, we were still able to get around Paris on public transportation. A friend of mine just posted on Facebook that traffic flows much more smoothly when there is a strike. Perhaps there are more effective means of protest; in the meantime, we can expect many more fists being shaken on the Champs Elysées.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blessed are the Peacemakers

In my last post, I mentioned the down side of being a people pleaser. The  extreme version is someone who is so eager to be liked that he actually has no sense of self.
Being a peace lover is radically different. A lover of peace is not afraid of conflict; indeed, he will take more than a little criticism in pursuit of what is often the most difficult choice.
Such are Aisam-ul-Haq Kureshi of Pakistan and Rohan Bopanna of India. Against all odds and the will of many of their countrymen, these two professional tennis players teamed up at last month's US Open in the men's doubles competition in a symbolic act that went far, far beyond their excellent level of play. (They went all the way to the finals and lost against two of their admirers, Bob and Mike Bryan of the US.) Their message was so loud and clear that even the UN ambassadors of the two archrival nations sat side by side to watch the historic match.
The two players admittedly didn't have world peace -- or even regional peace -- in mind when they first decided to become doubles partners. They simply thought it would help each other's game. But they soon realized they had become good will ambassadors and gladly stepped into the role, sporting matching track suits at Wimbledon that read, "Stop war, start tennis."
Would to God that their governments would sit up and pay attention.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oh Would Some Power...

By nature, I have always been a people  pleaser. A fear of conflict drove me to maintain the peace, no matter what the cost. In my old age -- or perhaps I could be bold enough to say, as I've matured -- I've become less afraid to disagree with someone and more willing to express what I feel and believe. I have to admit, however, that to a large degree, I still care what others think of me.
Have you ever wondered what other people think of you as a nation or culture? During my travels this past summer, I spent a good deal of time interviewing Europeans on their impressions of American culture. Some were careful to point out that there is a difference between Americans and American culture.
I've also begun interviewing non-Americans residing in the US about their experience adapting to life in these United States. Their stories are both compelling and diverse.
If you are among those Americans who couldn't care less what other people think, or about the impact -- both positive and negative -- American culture has had in the world over the last century, World to the Wise might not be for you. But if you're among the culturally curious who believe what is projected from this country matters, stay tuned.
To quote the great Scottish poet Robert Burns:
     "O would some power the Giftie gie' us
      To see ourselves as others see us."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Excuse me, but I'm a stupid American"

I had lunch yesterday with a new friend who used to manage a rock group in the 80's and 90's. We were talking about the subject of cultural intelligence and how it can make a difference in the way we as Americans are accepted when traveling abroad. He shared with me that, on a concert tour of multiple European countries, the band determined to learn at least one phrase in the language of each country they visited:
  "Excuse me, but I'm a stupid American. Can you help me?"

These guys were clearly not stupid -- on the contrary, they were wise enough to put themselves in a position of humility vis-à-vis their hosts. As you can imagine, that opening line was nearly always met with a chuckle, followed by a willingness to engage the visitors and provide information that would help them find their way or understand something about local culture. 

This is one example of how we can slowly but surely turn the tide of how we are viewed by the rest of the world -- one disarming chuckle at a time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The World Is a Book...

WAITING for each of our participants in their London hotel room on our recent tour was a moleskin journal with the following paragraph on the front page:

"The fool wanders; the wise man travels." - Thomas Fuller

These words reflect the philosophy behind the name of our company, World to the Wise. The Proverbs remind us of the importance of seeking wisdom, and much wisdom is to be gained from getting outside one's immediate surroundings. We travel not because we necessarily enjoy lengthy flights or sleeping in strange beds; we travel because we  need to occasionally be shaken from the quasi stupor we can so easily be lulled into in the comfortable familiarity of life in the United States. It is our belief that God has placed something uniquely beautiful in every culture on earth. He loves diversity! And if we don't cultivate curiosity, many riches will pass us by. It is not so much about what we do as how we do it.

Augustine expressed it like this:

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."

We invite you to stay tuned for announcements of upcoming World to the Wise Cultural Tours -- we've only just begun!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cheap Gas?

The uninitiated could easily be misled by this sign at a Swiss gas station: gas for $1.66 per gallon? Let’s break that down:
First, that’s 1.66 per liter. There are about 3.8 liters in a gallon, so that would be 6.31 per gallon. But then we’re talking Swiss francs, not dollars. 6.31 Swiss francs per gallon would be approximately $5.74 at the current exchange rate – and that rate is more advantageous for the dollar than it’s been in a long time. Gas is one of the very few things that are cheaper in Switzerland than in the rest of Western Europe; for example, in France it’s about $6.68 per gallon right now.

Still wishing you were driving in Europe? This is yet another reason so many Europeans use alternative means of transportation – bicycle, motor scooter, motorcycle, train – and oh yes, feet. Not to mention the near nightmarish difficulty of finding parking in many cities, let alone affordable parking.

Sort of makes us Americans a little slower to complain.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Step Back in Time

My wife Becky and I had an adventure in the French region of Alsace after the World to the Wise Cultural Tour was over and the rest of the participants had gone home. We were staying at a guest house owned by some friends in a tiny village 25 km from the beautiful city of Strasbourg. The village is surrounded by vineyards, as Alsace is widely known for its wines. High atop one of the Vosges mountains overlooking the Alsatian plain sits the convent of St. Odile, the patron saint of Alsace. Our friend Eric took us to visit this remarkable landmark built by Odile's father to commemorate her healing of blindness in the 7th century. That's 7th, not 17th. 

As Becky and I biked through the vineyards, though, we were intrigued by a dilapidated castle atop another mountain. It turns out there are multiple castles in the area, each one having been built by the medieval lords to protect their serfs from invaders.

One day we decided this castle needed to be explored from closer up. We rode our bikes to the town of Barr, as far as the road would take us. We then left the bikes chained to a tree and set out on foot on the trail whose signs pointed to the Château d'Andlau. It was one of the hottest days we've experienced yet in Europe, but the brilliant blue sky and the intrigue of castle ruins beckoned us upward. 

The forest was so dense, however, that we didn't catch so much as a glimpse of the castle until we had actually arrived at the end of a pretty demanding hike. What we found was a 1,000-year-old fortified castle ruin which was supposedly undergoing restoration; but there was not a soul anywhere around -- so we gave ourselves permission, so to speak, to do a little exploring on our own. I've seen many castles in Europe, but this was the first time that I found myself exploring one with just my wife,  as if we were the first ones to discover it.

Our entire time in Alsace was magical -- including fireworks in Strasbourg on July 14, the national holiday that also happens to be my birthday. But we'll never forget our clandestine climb to the Castle of Andlau and the journey back in time.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


If you read my earlier posts on our "incident" in Amsterdam, you may be thinking we'll be reluctant to go back there again. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The city delighted us all over again with its characteristic architecture, intricate canal system and avant garde personality. The photo above is of one of the classier of the hundreds and hundreds of houseboats that line the canals. The house we stayed in, on a quiet alley but right in the city center, was built in 1740. Because space is at such a premium, the houses are built up and not out; in fact, property taxes are paid based on the width of the house's façade. The staircases in these houses are so steep, they're almost like climbing up and down a ladder. At the top of each house, a large hook can be seen. This is for hoisting furniture, which is then moved in or out of a window rather than the front door.

You would have to ask one of our tour participants as to the highlight of our week in Amsterdam; some might say the Anne Frank house, or the Ten Boom house in nearby Haarlem, others might cite the day we rented bikes and rode them through the polders north of the city, or others still may talk about taking in Van Gogh and the Dutch Masters. Whatever the case, we look forward to introducing others to this underestimated city. Will you be one of those?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Imagining Monet

I think it's safe to say all of us on the World to the Wise Cultural Tour are big fans of the Impressionists, with Claude Monet right at the top. So imagine what a treat it was to take a day trip from Paris to Monet's fabled home at Giverny, about an hour's drive from the capital.

We stood on the famous Japanese bridge he had built and took in what are probably the most famous lily pads in the world, not to mention the gardens that surround the house. Monet said he knew how to do only two things: paint and garden. Giverny married the two passions perfectly. Even after hiring seven gardeners, Monet remained the architect of the gardens, giving daily written instructions to his staff.

It was only in 1980 that the Monet house and gardens were opened to visitors, following extensive restoration funded in part by American businessmen and artists. A number of American artists who were contemporaries of Monet were inspired by his work and actually came to settle in Giverny. 

Having already taken in many of Monet's works in Paris at the Musée d'Orsay, our tour participants were inspired to do a little creative expression of their own with the watercolors we provided. It was a serene break from the busy-ness of the capital (although we thoroughly enjoyed Paris!), and a reminder not to miss the simple beauties that feed the soul.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In the Steps of Clive Staples

One of the highlights of the World to the Wise Cultural Tour was our day trip to Oxford during the London week. Even if you have no appreciation or sense of history, the city itself will charm you to the point of reluctance to leave it. But with us were a group of people who were keenly aware of    the incredible legacy emanating from this city of over 1000 years, home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

We visited many of the numerous colleges scattered throughout the compact medieval city, but the one of most import to several in our group was Magdalen College (pron. maudlin), where author C.S. Lewis was a professor of medieval and Renaissance literature. After strolling through Magdalen, Christ Church and other colleges, punting on the River Cherwell on a gorgeous day, exploring an intriguing old cemetery and browsing the well known Blackwell's Bookstore, we finished an incredible day with dinner at the Eagle and Child, a typical British pub where Lewis, his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Hugo Dyson and other writers of note used to gather for a pint and discuss theirs and others' work. The group was known as the Inklings, and affectionately dubbed the pub the Bird and Baby. 

I think it's safe to say we'll repeat this experience the next time World to the Wise takes us to England!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

'T' for Tradition

You may have read that our video camera was stolen in Amsterdam. Here is a clip that survived because it had already been uploaded to one of our laptops.

Being a hard core tea drinker myself, you can imagine how at home I am drinking tea in the cradle of tea-drinking culture, Great Britain:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lost and Found

And now...the rest of the story.

Yes, we lost our passports, credit cards, driver’s licenses, cameras, journals, a sweater, etc. I had gone directly to the police station to file a report, while Becky had headed straight back to the house where we were staying to cancel all our credit cards. While at the station, I called the American consulate there in Amsterdam. It was about 5:30 pm on a Friday, and they had just closed for the weekend thirty minutes earlier. I was able to dial an emergency number, where I reached a kind gentleman who told me we would need to come apply for temporary passports in person. Not on Saturday, of course not on Sunday, not even on Monday, as they would be closed for the July 4th weekend; this meant we had three full days before we could even stand in line for new passports. What complicated the situation is that our son, Timothy, was scheduled to fly back to the States with the other tour participants the next morning. We weren’t exactly hopeful about those prospects, but we were going to the airport anyway to see the others off.
That night at the hotel near the airport, I got a phone call from the Amsterdam police. My passport and credit cards had been found and turned in by an anonymous person. Although this was extremely encouraging, it really didn’t change the present circumstances much at all. We would still have to go the consulate on Tuesday, and it was still anybody’s guess as to whether Timothy would be able to get on the plane the next morning. With mixed emotions we fell asleep that night, aided by simple exhaustion.
At Schiphol airport the next morning, we were surprised to find an INS agent who OK’d Timothy to travel with just a photocopy of his passport and a copy of the police report. After a bit of an emotional goodbye, we waved the kids through passport control and sat down to consider the next steps. My cell phone rang, and it was our good friend Celeste in Amsterdam. “Dave!” she said, “I am holding Becky’s and Timothy’s passports and several other things of yours.” I had sent her an emergency e-mail from the hotel the night before, but she hadn’t read it yet. But she HAD received a text message from a total stranger, saying, “I have the stuff you lost.” To try to summarize the story, he had found the items while looking through a TRASH CAN in a different part of town from where we had been robbed, looking for stolen belongings of a woman he had met. Among the items was my journal, in which he found Celeste’s phone number. She told him, however, that she had no idea what he was talking about. A couple of hours later, she read my e-mail and everything made sense. She immediately called the man back (an Amsterdam photographer), hopped on her bike and picked up the things. Not only that, she arranged a place for us to stay with a wonderful Dutch couple while we got our affairs sorted out – even though we no longer needed to apply for emergency passports, we still had to work out how to access funds and other details, since we had cancelled all our credit cards.
The cameras, you ask? Of course they were not returned. The biggest loss we feel is the irreplaceable footage on the video camera. But there were more than one angel at work in these circumstances, and even the police were amazed that any of our belongings at all had been returned. Amsterdam is known for the kind of ordeal we went through – none of that was a surprise. We’re choosing to focus on that handful of people who did the right thing, counter to the city’s reputation, and yes, we will be back.

Friday, July 9, 2010

At a Loss

I told you to expect lots of blog posts and even videos from the inaugural World to the Wise Cultural Tour. Two things have retarded that process: first, leading the tour proved much more time- and labor-intensive, preventing me from taking the time to write meaningful posts. Here I readily admit to being enough of a perfectionist that I won’t settle for whipping out a mundane blog post like, “We visited the Eiffel Tower today. The weather was perfect.” (Although, if you’re my Facebook friend, you would have seen occasional posts almost that mundane.) I like not only to report on things, but to make observations and commentary – I suppose I’m saying I want you to be glad you read my blog.

The reason you haven’t seen any videos yet is twofold: it was virtually impossible to find the time to upload the ones we shot; and, more sobering, our video camera AND still camera were stolen in Amsterdam.

For those who like the gory details, here’s how it all went down: we were near the end of a wonderful week in Amsterdam, having savored its old world charm and culture, and taken a couple of great day trips. You are hopefully aware that the World Cup was going on while we were there, and that the Netherlands had made it all the way to the quarter finals. (We had enjoyed watching various matches throughout the tournament, starting with US v. England on the first day of our arrival in the UK.) We had determined to watch the quarter finals pitting the Dutch against the formidable Brazilians, and chose a convivial corner café right in the heart of the city and no more than a five-minute walk from where we were staying. We picked out a round bistro table just inside, elevated about three feet above the entrance level where there were outdoor tables, and separated by a wrought iron rail.

It was a great atmosphere, complete with a handful of Brazilian fans and a very international crowd. I had gotten up to use the restroom, and just as I was walking back to the table, the Dutch team scored the first goal of the match. Needless to say, the place erupted – everyone was on their feet celebrating. When we sat back down, my wife, Becky, looked at her feet where we had both placed our shoulder bags. Both bags were gone. All that remained was a black umbrella that had not been there earlier. My first thought was that someone else in our group was holding our bags for us. Reality soon made itself known, though, as the blank faces of everyone around us told the story: while we were all on our feet in the midst of the pandemonium, someone had deftly reached through the railing behind our table with the umbrella and used its handle to hook both bags in one fell swoop. The redundant proof was Becky’s water bottle and toothbrush leaving a trail from our table to the street.

If you’ve ever been robbed, you’re familiar with the feelings of anger mixed with remorse, in this case. The fact is, I should have known better. I’m a seasoned traveler. I should have noticed the gaps in the railing behind our table, opening to the wide open doors to the busy street. In Becky’s bag were our brand new video camera and still camera, her passport, credit cards, driver’s license, journal, and a brand new sweater she had bought for the trip. Oh, and a Ziploc bag with watercolors and brushes, which we had used on occasion to relax and respond to some of the beauty around us in various places. In my bag, just the essentials – passport, credit cards, driver’s license, journal, and a few sundries.

We decided Becky would go back to our Amsterdam house immediately, get on the phone and cancel all our credit cards, while I filed a police report at the station less than five minutes’ walk down the same street. While I waited for them to process my report, I heard numerous other similar stories. Every person who came and went while I was there had been robbed.

Now you know why you’re just now hearing from me – but you’ll have to read the next post to find out that this is not the end of the story.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The World Is a Book

In the blank journals we put in each of our participants' hotel rooms, the first page contained a quote from Augustine:

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."

In that light, the World to the Wise Cultural Tour participants are doing some great reading! The tour is off to a stupendous start. Our days have been so full that it has been difficult to find the time to write a blog post -- but I must take a minute to observe that I don't think we could have chosen a better place to begin our tour than England. All of us participating are Anglo-Saxons, so being here can only feel a little like coming home.

Today was the perfect day for us to take a day trip to Oxford (pictured), where we traced the steps of centuries of scholars from the thirteenth century on, including the likes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. There was one breathtaking view after another as we visited the many colleges that make up Oxford University. We even took a midday break to punt the river Cherwell just next to Magdalene College, where C.S. Lewis was a fellow. We ended this picture perfect day with dinner at The Eagle and Child, the pub affectionately nicknamed "The Bird and Baby" by Lewis' and Tolkien's group of kindred spirits, the Inklings, who gathered frequently there to discuss their readings and writings over a pint.

London has not disappointed either. We've been awed in Westminster Abbey, thrilled on the London Eye, inspired at St. Paul's cathedral and the National Gallery, sobered at the Tower of London, and extravagantly entertained at "Wicked." Perhaps I'll be able to grab some time during our train trip to Paris on Saturday to reflect a bit more on some of our profound experiences. 

Let the reading continue!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

South Africa's Time to Shine

For all its problems and the challenges it faces in the 21st century, for the next three weeks, South Africa is a united country. It is the first African nation in history to host the World Cup, the most watched sporting event in the world. Whether black or white, South Africans everywhere are donning the multi-colored flag, understandably proud of this historic moment. 
This is a nation brimming with potential, yet plagued by staggering challenges: high crime, an HIV/AIDS epidemic...yet if you know any South Africans personally, you know their irresistible charm and sunny outlook -- and this is an opportunity for the world to sit up and take notice. South Africa, we salute you.
Interestingly, I'll be watching England v. USA from my hotel in London on the first night of the World to the Wise Cultural Tour. The hotel is probably the safest place for an American to watch! Speaking of the cultural tour, you'll need to visit this blog often over the next few weeks to follow our adventures. It all begins this Friday!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hope: the Most Powerful Force

This past weekend I took part in a basic training session with Hope Force International, a seven-year-old NGO committed to rapid, compassionate response to crises and natural disasters. Although this may seem like it came out of left field, I've had an interest for many years in relief and development, and when this opportunity came along, it just felt like it was the right time.
I was impressed with Founders Jack and Cherie Minton's and Training Coordinator Sue Duby's commitment to making sure their reservists are on the same page before they even begin the technical portion of the training. Crisis relief is, after all, a spiritual activity which will test you to the core and reveal any and all areas of insecurity and misplaced identity.
If you feel it's time for you to be ruined for the ordinary and become an HFI reservist, check out their website here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kids' Crème Brulée

A recent article in TIME Magazine left me smiling. In France, while certain government programs and benefits are being slashed in order to reduce the national deficit, the school lunch programs remain intact. This is no accident.

In times past, it was common for schoolchildren, as well as their parents, to go home for a long, relaxed lunch break -- and the noon meal was generally the main meal of the day. Not even France, however, has remained unaffected by the acceleration of daily life and a more hectic lifestyle, which means a majority of schools now serve lunch.

And we're not talking hamburgers and tater tots.

Variety is important, so no single meal is repeated during an entire 32-day period. In the case of young children, the kids are seated at tables and required to put on their best table manners while workers serve them a five-course meal: an hors d'oeuvre, salad, the main course, a cheese plate, and dessert. Not only this, but the school sends home recommendations to the parents for the evening menu to ensure not only variety but well balanced meals.

The point here is not to make fun of the French; heaven knows we could learn a lesson here. But every culture has elements it considers non-negotiables -- what are the non-negotiables in your culture?