Thursday, July 31, 2008

Last Day Overseas

Its our last day in the UK. Today we visited Windsor Castle, and for us all, this one of our favorite stops.

The sense of history and majesty we got here is perhaps more emphasized because, well, we speak the language, and a way back in our families, as I mentioned in our Westminster Abbey visit, we may have some
relatives. Then again, maybe not.

There is a sense of nobility in the Royals, even for all their family dysfunction, they represent a fascinating (and often bloody, I admit) legacy.
Perhaps the most interesting bit (note, British term) of our tour was St. George's Room, pictured below at left, during a state dinner. Reminds me so much of dinner at our house, perhaps that was the connection I felt.

And then, to cap off the day, below is posted what happens when you leave your camera with two teenage girls.

Home tomorrow, thankful, a bit more cultured, and deeply grateful for the journey.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Twinkle Time Again

Tonight was our last night in Paris. As a mini-celebration and farewell, we headed to the Champ De Mars, where Napoleon once marched his troops, and much other history occurred, to have a small family picnic.

The first photo at left was taken at about 9:15 PM; it stays light out quite late here. The second photo was taken at 10:05PM, as
"Twinkle Time", began for the first time of the evening. I will advise you that secondary smoke is a major issue for this evening picnic, the French love their "tabac". Phew!

Lovely, romantic, wonderful. A great way for us all to remember a great city. Back to London tomorrow for two more nights.

Hopefully a trip to Windsor Castle on Thursday.

The Last Two Days in Paris

It has been a busy two days here in Paris. Wonderful weather, and warm! Yesterday morning, in a bow to teenage lethargy and weariness, Nancy & I (together) headed off to the church of La Sainte-Chapelle, a stunning place, full of light and nearly the entry story of the Scriptures, all in stained glass. This church was built for the King, and to hold various Christian relics, now housed in Notre Dame.

We then strolled through the Left Bank and Latin Quarter, enjoying the narrow streets, and sights, smells (all wonderful) and sounds. It was a bit warmish (read, I was soaking wet!), so we stopped for lunch at a completely dinky little flaffel place, where I sat happily by the only air conditioner in that part of France for my lunch. How American of me. Shame on my carbon footprint.

After this, we returned to our hotel, rousted one of our weary travel-mates (name withheld), while the other continued to read (for fall school assignments) and headed off to visit the top (I did not know you could do this!) of the Arc 'de Triumph!

Important travelers note here. Do NOT make cell phone calls from the interior of the top of the Arc. The French people frown on this. I was busted for receiving the first call from my office in 10 days there. I have learned my lesson. Enough said.

Actually, my favorite part of this was watching the moving traffic below, in the traffic circle surrounding the Arc, attempt to actually negotiate the circle, completely without the aid of any traffic lights. There were several police officers watching the most dangerous section from curbside, and somehow pulling people over!

One other item of French custom. Do not jaywalk across this traffic intersection. If you do, (and as I witnessed from above) you will, after traversing the entire intersection / traffic circle at risk of your life, be directed by the astute police BACK across the same death trap, so that you may safely use the underground pedestrian tunnel. This same logic has brought us, well, um, French Toast, I guess. I love it here.

Today, the Paris Opera house was our stop, and pictured at left. How about this for a lobby. Disney Hall in Los Angeles pales in comparison.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Remembering Randy Pausch

It is with sadness that I need to interupt our European vacation to report the death of Dr. Randy Pausch. Dr. Pausch's book, The Last Lecture, was co-written by a journalist with the Wall Street Journal.

Randy spent his final months being lauded in arenas far beyond his specialty. ABC News declared him one of its three "Persons of the Year" for 2007. TIME magazine named him to its list of the 100 most influential people in the world. On thousands of Web sites, people wrote essays about what they had learned from him. As a book, "The Last Lecture" became a #1 bestseller internationally, translated into 30 languages.

Below is a fitting tribute to an amazing man. I hope I can grow up to be only part of the good man he was. My prayers are with the close family and friends of Dr. Pausch. May Grace abound where pain feels overwhelming.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Versailles, Impressionists, and The Laundromat

Today was a day full of variety. We took the early morning train to the Palace of Versailles, where we thought we might beat the crowds. Not. I am guessing we were there with a small crowd of, oh, say, 20,000.

How calming, how serene, how pastoral, how like the leisurely life of
Louis XIV. Not. There is nothing like wrestling your way through a crowd of non-air conditioned people from all over the world. These people have a tendency to take photos of everything, including floorboards, doornobs, direction signs, and themselves. Once we got outside though, it was much more pleasant. It helps when there are several thousand acres of gardens.

It was worth the trip and the waiting though, to see the setting for the life of a completely extraordinary man. Louis rained over France for 72 years. I would be happy if I could just eat solid foods for that long.

Later in the day, Nancy and I dropped the girls off at our hotel, and went for our own little trip to the
Musee d"Orsay, the art museum best known for its large collection of Impressionist Painters. Amazing! We were a bit sad to see that one of our (Nancy & I) favorite paintings, one that hangs in our family room, was out on loan, but the rest of the collection was wonderful. Never have I seen so much Impressionist work in one place.

After dinner, I decided it was time to partake in the life of common Parisians, and do some laundry. As I am an accomplished world traveller (note the subtle, yet detectable irony here), I felt a trip to the local laundromat would be simple. Oh naive me.

After reading the wonderful english instructions on the wall, I filled my washer with clothes and added the liquid detergent (shrewdly packed and provided by my brilliant wife) to the special little French soap-holder-thingie, I went to the French electronic electronic command post to start my washer. I punched in the number of the washer I was using and received a message in French, which included the daunting words "impossible" (pronounced with a French accent) on the read-out screen. "This is not good, I thought - I know what THAT word means!" I then decided something must be wrong with the washer I was using, so I deftly changed machines.

But what to do about the now-lost liquid soap!? I know! Grab a sock from the dirty clothes, swab out the the special little soap-holder-thingie, and now take the "super soapy sock" and chuck it into the new washer! Stunning logic! How could I go wrong now? I had overcome the evil gremlins of French laundry. I was even pondering the marketing potential of the Super Soapy Sock, picturing myself retiring early, living on some South Pacific island, all from the proceeds of my sock idea.

I then returned to the command post, punched in the new washer number, and found the same message "im-pos-ee-bley"! After giving in and asking a fellow laudromat patron what was going on, turns out there is some national law here in France that prohibits laundry-doing any later than 9 PM. Well, excuse me, country of France, I have dirty underthings!

I trudged home, defeated by a French laundromat, with a super soapy sock nestled in the middle of my dirty clothes bag. Will Franco - American relations suffer? Will Steve ever have clean shorts?

More tomorrow.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Center of a Town, and of a Country

Today was our first full day in Paris, and we started off with a wonderful whirlwind tour of the Louvre with our new friend Christi Bart, who runs Norman Conquests, a fascinating custom tour company. Turns out, Christi is a former actress (General Hospital!), who decided to chuck it all, and move to Paris 20 or so years ago. She has never looked back!

After visiting the amazing underground level of the Louvre, and (of course....yawn) seeing the Mona Lisa, we headed off to the Left Bank, and walked some of the very first streets of Paris, trod more than 200 years ago by the likes (really) of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. These men came to France to learn of the French Revolution, and apply some of its principals to a new document they were preparing for the colonies. We walked past a restaurant (please do not quiz me with the name) that Franklin frequented for dinner!

After this we strode across the Seine again and on to the grounds of the imposing cathedral of Notre Dame. Fascinatingly, we learned that the geographic center point of all of France, not just Paris alone, is a spot in front of Notre Dame. Directly in front of the cathedral, mounted in the pavement and pictured at left, is a small disk that marks “point zéro,” the reference point from which all distances in France are measured.

Imagine that, the center point is a church. As we entered, the noon Mass was under way, and I had the chance to take the photo at left, not perfectly composed, but quite meaningful to me.

I kept thinking about that idea the rest of the day. I still am musing upon the words
“point zéro”. The center point, the place of starting. The Beginning. And then thinking of the words of institution in the Mass, "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper." And then.... "The Body of Christ", and "The Blood of Christ".

I will remember where the center of France is for a long time. Although many may argue about where France is today, perhaps for me it is better to think more about where my "center" is.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Enough said.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

History, Nobility, and Fraulein Maria

Yesterday was a full day.

We started at the National Art Gallery, visited St. Martin in the Fields, had a low-budget picnic lunch in The Green Park, stopped by Buckingham Palace (Queen home, but no sighting) and visited Westminster Abbey, later in the day. It turns out I might (fat chance) have family members in ancient British nobility.

To end our day, we rushed through the London Tube, changing trains with great skill (I was the navigator, thank you), to see The Sound of Music at the Palladium. What a blast, and half price tickets too!

Pictured above, Nancy and Kelly at a house we clearly cannot afford. Even the gardening bill would choke a horse.

Today, Steve got to visit, by himself (sigh!) the Imperial War Museum, whilst Nancy and Heather visited the Cabinet War Rooms. Later in the day, we stopped by Herod's, bought almost nothing (wise move), and then headed back to our hotel to collapse.

Tomorrow, on to Paris!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sitting on the Steps of St. Paul's

Today was a brilliantly sunny London day. It was lunch time, and for Londoners, apparently sunshine is a rare commodity. Everyone in the central business district, who could get out, got outside for the lunch hour.

And where do these hundreds flock on a sunny day like today? Given that the London Stock Exchange is one block north, and there are not many large parks in this part of
town, one of the few large open spaces in London turns out to be the steps of St. Paul's. A church.

These Londoners were having their lunch, enjoying small talk with friends, reading a book or magazine in solitude, or just watching the people go by, all on the steps of a church. On the steps, outside.

And likely, I thought, probably oblivious to the church behind them, the history of what lay inside, and maybe even of the God for whom this great church was, at least originally, built. Oh, that those hundreds might come inside, and behold the beauty! That the church might love them so, that they felt drawn inside.

But after all now, really, its just a church.

Perhaps this struck me, as I know that much of the time, I am oblivious too. I have no clue, no idea of what might be going on, even right behind me. But on this day, frankly, there was not much going on inside that church; just a bunch of us tourists taking in the historic sights. I must admit I feel a bit sad to know that a part of the church universal is best known as a form of history museum, as is St. Paul's. I longed to know more of what the people and pastors of this church were doing to love their great city in a real way for a very real Christ.

As I was inside St. Paul's, walking through the crypt's, viewing the graves of British history, I came upon a tour group viewing the statue of a gaunt man, posed in a shroud of sorts. This was John Donne, who lead a remarkable life, and was actually the Dean of St. Paul's from 1621 to 1631, the year of his death.

As I stood and listened, the tour guide repeated, from memory, these words of John Donne, now immortal in history:

" No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
As I stood and listened to these words, I thought of the hundreds sitting outside in the sun. I thought about myself, and my weak attempts to live out a gospel that is real. I am a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

I want to do better with my little piece of land. To till the earth and make it bloom, and to show that garden to others, that they might behold the Beauty of the Creator.

That we all, together, might not be so oblivious.

Monday, July 21, 2008

British Culture Update and Our Travels

British Culture and Sports Update
We were awakened at 7 AM today by our two girls, who came to our door in near hysterics, after watching 30 minutes of
Teletubbies. This programme (as it is spelled here) is know to induce hysteria in teenage American girls, I guess. The British certainly know how to do children's programming. Pictured at left, the girls with a Figaro. This car reminded me of the last time I visited Rome, in 1987.

Before I regale you with tales of our travels, I must first offer first a quick update on the England - South Africa Cricket Match, something I know you all care greatly about. I agree completely with Simon Hughes, who says, quite succinctly, in today's Telegraph:
" The South Africans excelled in their crease occupation and in their careful accumulation on a Headingley pitch which rewards patience and punishes extravagance. Despite their colossal score at Lord’s, the England batsmen have still not acquired the art of consistently selling their wickets dear."
Well. Yes, of course! I could not agree more. Never sell your wickets dear, I always say. If there is anything I will not do, it is to sell my wickets dear.

The Day's Travels
Our day started at the Tower of London. The most haunting portion of our visit was reading the actual graffiti left by Tower prisoners during their imprisonment or in the days prior to their execution. At left is the door through which a good number walked before execution. Quite sobering.

Next off to St. Paul's Cathedral, the historic spiritual center of London. More on that soon, perhaps.

And, to end the day, while Nancy and Heather headed off to do the "tourist thing" at the London Eye, Kelly and I spent a good hour or more at The Cabinet War Room. This was actually good timing with my 17 year old, as she just finished this material in her honors history class this past year. She absorbed much of the information; to see this history for real was quite meaningful for her.

I visited this same place 26 years ago, during my last stop in London, and was no less impressed upon my second visit. The whole nature of a World War being run from a basement by a nation, and more particularly a leader under siege is stunning. The courage and determination of the British people is really quite something to remember.

From Churchill's address to the House of Commons, June 4, 1940, following the Battle of Dunkirk:
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
At the end of the War, on V-J day at 5 PM, it is said that the officers and clerks in the War Rooms, simply put down their pencils, pushed back from their typewriters and maps, turned out the lights, and left the building, never to return. Through the review of a large collection of photographs taken during the war, the rooms have been painstakingly returned to their exact condition during the War.

That we could all push back from our own "little battles" of life, of conflicts with those that annoy and trouble us. Push back, turn out the lights, close the door and never return. I would not even want photos to remind me.

London Day 1

One 10 hour plane ride, and the Family Norris is in London!

Its hard to believe, but a couple of years of dreaming, months of discussions of places to visit with friends, checking of reservations, cashing-in of flier miles, and planning have brought us here, safe and sound.

Well, maybe not so sound. Heather kept commenting at lunch, "I just can't wrap my mind around this whole time change thing". This was after not sleeping a wink on the plane, and witnessing her first "two hour night", as we chased the sun across the Atlantic. The first photo at right illustrates our two girls on the London double-decker tour bus a bit after lunch time today. The second photo is just about 45 minutes later, after the full effects of no sleep and an 8 hour time change have begun to work their magic on Heather.

But after a two hour nap, and a good dinner, we are heading to bed looking forward to a fun day at the Tower of London, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey tomorrow. Well, at least three of us are. Heather slept through dinner, God bless her.

An amazing city. Amazing girls to travel with. What more could a guy want?

P.S.: I know there are several people reading this in order to follow our travels, and you people are often lurkers, who do not leave comments. Lets make this interactive people; leave some comments - the girls would love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Purple State of Mind

What if two guys, who were college chums long ago, got together and made an honest film about their differences? And what if the biggest difference they had was about what each believed about God?

Well, its happened, and it appears this film is going to be something fascinating. Oh, and all you Christian folk out there might not feel completely satisfied when its over. I think that is good.

The premise of this film, to explore the differences and relationships of two distinctly different people; a believer and a non-believer is something that is rarely done, and even more rarely done well. We Christian folk are often terrible at this sort of thing, and I am interested to see primarily, if Craig Detweiler (the God-believer in the film) can play his role with grace, dignity, and real care for his friend. Disclaimer: my wife Nancy has audited a class at Fuller Seminary from one of the filmmakers, Craig Detweiler. She loved the class. I have not seen the film, I ordered it today.

From the Purple State of Mind web site:

Conversations are the ideal form of communication in some respects, since they allow people with different views of a topic to learn from each other. A speech, on the other hand, is an oral presentation by one person directed at a group.

That nails it. We've become a nation of speech-makers. Everyone has their bullet points. Everyone takes aim. Left versus right. Gay versus straight. Atheist versus believer. The shrapnel has caught all of us in the crossfire, and we struggle to respond like soldiers; we fire back, but our own guns fail us.

As a person of faith, Craig is troubled by the perception of Christians as judgmental and hypocritical. How could Jesus, the great defender of the poor, the hungry and the hurting have been turned into a hater? As a reporter in the Balkans, John witnessed the process by which religious and ethnic identity drives division. He's unnerved by the potential for a war of words to become something far worse.
Purple State of Mind is an 80-minute effort to bridge the cultural gap, to push past politics, and wade into the middle ground where most people live.

For more, and to order the film, visit Purple State of Mind.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Leningrad Cowboys

I love the Internet. Everyday I learn things I would never otherwise know.

I am also quite fond of my half-brother John, a former fighter pilot and Air Force officer, who now lives in Norway. John sends me the most interesting emails you can imagine, and today was one I just had to share with my 6 readers.

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Red Army had an official choir composed of male soldiers and musicians. It still exists. The Red Army Choir performs throughout Russia to this day.

Now consider the Finnish rock band called The Leningrad Cowboys (pictured above - I love particularly the hair and shoes). A little while ago, they held a concert in Russia, in which - to the screaming applause of Russkie teen-agers - they got the Red Army Choir to join them on stage for a performance of "Sweet Home Alabama." In English. You couldn't make this up.

We have Ronald Reagan to thank for this video:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Turning 50 - More Photos

At the request of distinguished members of our Canadian family, I present a few more photos of "Steve & Friends Fly at 50" event. First, Steve flys, then Nancy does too. Wooo Hooo!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

High Gas Prices

When I was a kid, my Dad used to sit at the kitchen table during dinner and complain about "those damn environmentalists".

We have not built a refinery in the US in 30 years. I can easily guess why that is the case.

Sometimes, only sometimes mind you, I think my Dad was right.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Day at the Beach

Today we will blithely jump in the pool. We might barbecue something. Many of us will avoid the heat, stay indoors and watch the 4th of Joly festivities from the national mall on PBS. Some of us will actually go out and watch the local community fireworks; we will be doing that tonight. A few songs of patriotic note, a lot of explosions, and smoke. Lots of smoke.

Then we will all pile back in the car, drive home, and go to bed, content that tomorrow will hold little risk of our lives, minimal danger, and we will wake up in a free country. Tomorrow, we might even go to the beach. What the heck, its a long weekend!

The beach. For me the beach has always been a special place, a place of rest, of rejuvenation. There is something about the sea, the sand, the salt air, and the company of friends. To me, the beach means peace, sunsets, laughter, good conversation, and fun. A boundary between land and sea. For us in California, the beach is the edge of a continent, a stepping off point to distant lands.

In June of 1944, 64 years ago, a day at the beach meant something entirely different for those men who participated in the landing at Normandy. Peggy Noonan has rightly chosen this 4th of July to remind us of a completely different Day at the Beach.

Thank you, Ms. Noonan for remembering these remarkably brave men.

Tonight, when the fireworks fly at the football field in town, my eyes, as always, will fill with tears. I will be remembering the men of Omaha Beach, my Dad who flew in the South Pacific, and those of our country who serve now in dangerous places, all over the world.

I owe my freedom to them all.
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