Thursday, June 28, 2007

As The "Unchurched" See Us

Evangelism to the "unchurched" is a priority for many Christians in the US today, judging by the chat in the blogosphere and in publications aimed at the Christian audience. Recently a Seattle paper sent 31 reporters to visit 31 different churches in the area and write their responses.

You can read all about it here: A Month of Sundays.

Their comments and observations should be included in a Real Life Evangelism 101 class. Most of them could not be classified as "seekers" in any sense, they were just there to do a job and wouldn't have darkened the doors otherwise. Most of them had very little church background and several alluded to unpleasant memories of churchgoing. And most seem to be twenty and thirty-somethings.

One of the most positive comments came from the guy who attended a Presbyterian church. I think he was much more predisposed to be favorable to church in general than the other reporters.

Many of you enjoy reading the church reviews on the Ship of Fools site. This is very different because the reviewers often have no idea what is going on in a traditional (let alone a contemporary) worship service. Their frame of reference is wholly secular.

Hat tip: Decently and In Order.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Different Kind of Visioning

The last two days have been spent in the company of the City of Sugar Land's Visioning Task Force as we traveled by van around the Houston metro area in search of a plan for the last 1,000 acres available in Sugar Land for development. Long time readers of QG may remember that I've served on visioning task forces for presbytery and often struggled with the assignment. It's been interesting to contrast the municipal and presbytery experiences. I was asked by City Council to serve on the task force.

Visioning at presbytery typically involved a lengthy process of starting with a couple of days retreat to Cho-Yeh followed up with several months of continued meetings in Houston. The municipal process is much more compressed and active. Last week part of the group spent 2 days careening around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex looking at mixed use developments ( I couldn't go because General Council of presbytery met one of those days). This week we toured the Houston area. Today I have a debriefing interview and tomorrow there's a half-day "visioning workshop". The whole process will be completed with a report to City Council by mid-July. That's a dizzyingly fast schedule compared to the s.l.o.w. (ok some would say deliberate) presbytery process.

The reason for this difference in schedule is simple: the city's process is focused on bricks and mortar rather than the presbytery's spiritual concerns. Time is money when it comes to city planning and development, so serving on a visioning task force is a short term commitment, not a long term one. I liked that, to tell you the truth.

Another significant difference of course, is that the city's constitutency is far more diverse in every way than the presbytery's. Presbytery only has to concern itself with the different flavors of Presbyterians. Sugar Land has significant ethnic and religious minorities--including sizeable Hindu and Muslim communities in addition to virtually every Christian denomination.

There are similarities, too. Both the city and the presbytery have to consider the financial implications of decisions or policies that follow from the process. Both strive to bring together members of their community who represent different groups in order to achieve consensus. Both focus on broad concepts rather than pesky details.

I'm the only "lawyer" in the group so it's been fun to shake the dust off that old hat. I've met some very interesting people, learned more about the city, and am looking forward to the rest of the week.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Know All By These Presents:

That the Petitioner, Rabbit Fu-Fu, hereinafter known as "Bunny Fu", does hereby respectfully petition this court grant her request to adopt the QG Family. In support of that request, Bunny Fu respectfully would show the court the following:

1. For the past two years Bunny Fu has been building a relationship with the QG Family by hopping cutely around the aforementioned family's patio and lawn from time to time; and

2. Since the demise last fall of their beloved Gretel The Noble Dog, Bunny Fu is the only responsible animal on the premises who could take custody; and

3. Although Bunny Fu did not have a good relationship with the said Gretel, Bunny Fu has forgiven Gretel her debts (being a Presbyterian Bunny she does not say "trespasses"), so Bunny Fu does not harbor hard feelings about the family's previous animal custodian; and

4. The family has a suitable enclosed area in the yard that Bunny Fu can live in so she can properly supervise the said family; and

5. There is a lot of grass that Bunny Fu can help keep (chomp chomp) trimmed; and

6. I like Babs. A lot. She gave me carrot chips this weekend. I think I can work with her.

Wherefore Petitioner Bunny Fu asks this honorable court to grant her plea for adoption of the QG Family.

Respectfully submitted,
Rabbit F. ("Bunny Fu") Fu

What say you, members of the court?


Judge Gannet Girl rendered the judgment of this honorable virtual court as follows--(see comments):
It is the finding of this court that it is in the best interest of the QG Family that custody of said family be awarded to the Petitioner; and

That the support and maintenance of said Petitioner be the responsibility of Family Member Babs (an oddly reversed set of findings, but whatever); and

IT IS THEREFORE HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the Motion of the Petitioner herein be and is granted in its entirety.
Signed and entered this 27th day of June, 2007.

Monday, June 25, 2007

RevGalBookPals Discussion: Walking The Bible

Today I'm hosting the RevGalBookPals discussion of Bruce Feiler's book, Walking The Bible, over at the RevGalBlogPals blog. You don't have to be a member of the RevGalBlogPals webring to join in the discussion. So if you're interested in joining in, or just want to read some insightful and lively commentary about the book, click on this link.
See you there!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

More than a Cake--Its a "Grace Cake"

Back on July 4, 2005, when I was just a newbie blogger, I wrote a post titled: The Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake, A Fourth of July Tradition.

The post drew several comments and lo, it came to pass that making, baking and talking about that cake became a catalyst for the formation of the RevGalBlogPals webring (now numbering more than 300 members from around the world representing many different Christian denominations and traditions), and the publication of two books of devotions written by members, and the organization of RevGalBlogPals, Inc.

Songbird, one of the founding members of the ring, and the president of RevGalBlogPals, Inc., is a UCC minister in Maine. Recently she posted a picture of the Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake that she made at her daughter's request for her birthday and reminisced about how that cake played a role in drawing the RevGalPals all together. The recipe is included in both my link above and Songbird's link here, so click on one of them to get it.

This morning Songbird was still talking about the cake. Songbird took that post and rewrote it for her weekly column in a local newspaper. You can read her column here. In the column, she called the cake the "Grace Cake". And so it has become. It's not about me or my blog at all--the name reminds us that God's grace can use a computer, the internet, weblogs and a cake recipe to bring us together and bless a community of believers.

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

5 Things I Dig About Jesus Meme

Presbyterian Gal tagged me for this meme. Here are the rules:

(a) Those tagged will share "Five Things They Dig About Jesus".
(b) Those tagged will tag 5 people.
(c) Those tagged will leave a link to their meme in the comments section of this post so everyone can keep track of what's being posted.

I'd like to steal her answers, but that's not allowed. So here goes.

1. Jesus had a great sense of humor.

2. Jesus made the simple wise, and the wise simple.

3. Jesus knew how to use even the "cracked pots." See 2 Corinthians 4:7.

4. Jesus' life transformed his disciples
5. Jesus' resurrection transformed the world. And me. And you.

I don't think this meme has been around much yet, so I'll tag:

St. Casserole
Gannet Girl
Mark Time
Cathy's Grace Notes

And anyone else who wants to play--leave a comment so I can visit.

One Happy Mama

Babs has been home about a week, preparing to take the state licensing exam so she can get her temporary license as a counselor which she needs to have before she can apply for a job.

She was here to celebrate Portia's birthday last week. We've had fun taking Portia out to lunch. When I had to be in presbytery meetings, she took care of deliveries and repairs at home. They always are scheduled when it's least convenient, you know.

Now both my girls are here in the Houston area. They get together on their own to shop and socialize. I'm one happy Mama enjoying this quotidian grace.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Good News from New Covenant

Most PresbyNews these days is negative: loss of membership, withdrawals of churches, and the conflict in the denomination over theological, social and property issues dominate the coverage of the PCUSA.

Today I'm happy to report some really good news from Presbytery of New Covenant. Yes, friends, in our little corner of the world in southeast Texas, we are doing our best to "brighten up the corner where we are". Maybe our news will inspire and encourage others.

But first, a little background. Last fall the PNC discovered the Million Dollar Problem. Since that time members of the financial committees and the General Council and staff have worked very hard to develop a strategy for repaying General Assembly's special offering funds, maintain the New Church Developments already underway, and find a way to balance the next presbytery budget.

At today's General Council meeting:
  • A balanced budget for 2007-2008 was presented and will be recommended for adoption at the August presbytery meeting that maintains current staff and NCD support to the tune of 20% of the total budget. This is a miracle that we didn't think would happen just a couple of short weeks ago.
  • We made our first repayment to GA for the special offerings;
  • The financial folks reported that since January, giving to presbytery from the churches has been more consistent and at a higher level than at any time in the past;
  • Churches and individuals have increased their pledges for giving to the presbytery;
  • Grants totaling $120K from the Vision Initiatives fund were approved to fund innovative programs for redevelopment of two churches; launch of a new suburban church development; and to establish a program to train pastors in missional ministry. Among other things.
The two redevelopment grant proposals are particularly intriguing to me.

One is from a church located in an neighborhood that is becoming more Hispanic. Development of an outreach program to women in the area who are involved in domestic abuse and their children has grown since a support group began meeting at the church and the pastor, a Hispanic woman who is herself a domestic abuse survivor, became involved in counseling the women. A Spanish language Sunday evening service is now being offered and the grant would expand tutoring and child care staff. I love this project because it evolved spontaneously (no doubt with some help from the Holy Spirit) from an outside group meeting at the church as relationships between the women, the pastor and some church members developed. Some of the women are now inquiring about church membership.

The other proposal that I am eager to see put into action is from a church located in an area where there are a lot of engineering and technical people residing. This church has been through tough times, but now is poised for redevelopment. It has developed a well-thought out process for equipping its members to evangelize and develop outreach programs specifically to the unchurched and make disciples for Christ targeting this scientific community in which most of them live.

PNC still has a lot of work to do, but we're blessed to find our relationships with each other strengthening because a lot of people have spent a lot of time and attention to that, and ~knock wood~ none of our churches are discussing withdrawal from the denomination.

So just for today, let's rejoice in how far we've come since last fall--with God's help!

Monday, June 18, 2007

My Kind Of Idol Won!! Potts Update

I couldn't resist posting this one--Paul Potts, the cellphone salesman from Wales won the Britain Has Talent contest! He got a recording contract and plans to pay off debts and get his teeth fixed with the award money. Go Paul--see you at the Met!

I'd like to think that if a singer of his caliber competed on American Idol singing a classical piece like "Nessun Dorma" that person would win, too. But I'm sorry to say that I doubt it.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Walking the Bible--Video Introduction

For those of you reading Walking The Bible for the RevGals book discussion that I will host a week from Monday, here's a 10 minute video overview of the book that features some spectacular photography of the places Feiler visited and wrote about.

If you haven't started reading the book yet, there's still time to get it and join in our discussion at the RevGalBlogPals blog on Monday. I'm going to cross-post an invitation to discussion here so everyone can participate.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Book Review: The Testament of Gideon Mack

Once I started reading The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson, I couldn't put it down. The quote from Moby Dick that introduces The Testament summed it up very well:

"I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy notions on these subjects...Heaven have Mercy on us all--Presbyterians and Pagans alike--for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending. "
~Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Gideon Mack is a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian in the US) pastor who doesn't believe in God. His "testament" recounts his troubled life and ultimate encounter with the Devil, who rescued him from what should have been a fatal accident. The novel has several other memorable and well-drawn characters who are also "dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending". These include Gideon's stern minister father, his abjectly subsurvient mother, his good friend and fellow atheist Catherine Craigie whose funeral service featured the Mexican song La Cucaracha, his friend and fellow minister Lorna who suffers unrequited love for Gideon, and of course the Devil himself dressed in black slacks and black polo shirt.

Fractured relationships are one of the themes of the novel. Gideon's relationships with his father, mother, deceased wife Jenny, Lorna, and his married friends John and Elsie are fraught with tension, betrayal and misunderstanding. Of course, his relationship with the church and his entire professional life are profoundly hypocritical because he confesses that he was an atheist when he became a minister and persisted in living a lie. My PresbyBlogging pals and Presbyreaders with an interest in the Scots antecedents of their church will find many references to life in the modern day Church of Scotland in the book.

Here's a sample from the book to pique your interest, taken from a conversation at the end of the book between Gideon Mack and the Devil as they discuss God. The Devil says:
"...I feel sorry for him actually. What's in this for him? if things are going well, people forget about him. They unchain the swings, turn the churches into casinos and mock anybody who still believes in him. He's a very easy target. And who does he get left with? Fanatics and maniacs of every faith and every persuasion, who want to kill the heretics and blow themselves to pieces in his name. I feel sorry for God, I do..."
Robertson is a superb writer. He explores the difference between faith and belief, salvation and redemption, and revelation and madness in this compelling tale. Testament is the first of his books to be published in the US and I trust it won't be the last.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

8 Random Things Meme

Gannet Girl tagged me for this meme today, which reminded me that Mary Beth had also tagged me while I was on vacation and I had forgotten to respond. So with apologies to Mary Beth for the tardy response, I'm doing so now.

The rules for the meme are:

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

3.At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here are my 8 random things:

1. I listen to "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" podcasts on my drive to and from church on Wednesday evenings for choir practice. One podcast is equivalent to one round trip. I learned about WWDT from Songbird's blog and just love it. My favorite panelist is P.J. O'Rourke.

2. There's a collection of crosses on my kitchen wall. Each one is a gift from a friend which makes them very special.

3. Snow fell in San Antonio, Texas, the day I was born. I've never figured out what that portended. If anything.

4. One of my ancestors was a victim of the Salem witch trials.

5. IMHO feng shui is bogus.

6. With respect to gardening, I have a black thumb but am working on turning it to at least brownish-green.

7. Although I have a good "bump of direction", I'm terrible giving directions to others because I have a brain glitch that prevents me from articulating "right" and "left". Poor Portia inherited this trait, so DK is frustrated as well as El Jefe.

8. El Jefe and I met through a mutual acquaintance at the review course for the Texas bar exam. Despite that, we both passed the first time. (I scored higher, BTW).

Practically every blogger I read regularly has been tagged already. So I'll just tag Rev. Dave and his lovely bride Rev. Kim.

Update: For those of you who asked... Here are pictures of the cross collection.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Meeting Mayhem

Rev. Dave suggests these minutes should be required reading for all members of sessions, lay boards, General Councils and other church groups. Warning to New Covenant Presbytery GC members: Be prepared to explain the final decision on the light bulb at next Tuesday's meeting.

Too funny and all too true to life!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My Kind of "Idol"

This is an awesome clip from the British reality show "Britain Has Talent." It brought tears to my eyes.The singer is Paul Potts.

Hat Tip: The Pastor's Husband

Monday, June 11, 2007

Why Two Mission Conferences?

This morning I'm wondering why we have two Presbyterian-sponsored mission conferences being sponsored within two months of each other.
Presbyterian Global Fellowship's second annual conference, "Inside Out", is August 16-18 in my very own hometown of Houston, Texas.

The PCUSA is organizing a mission conference," Mission '07: A Celebration of Grace", October 2-6 at the General Assembly's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

The obvious difference between the two conferences seems to be that while PGF emphasizes the importance of mission in church congregations the PCUSA conference focuses on denominational mission emphasis. That's not surprising. I suspect that the PCUSA conference was organized in response to the first PGF conference last year, which was pretty successful.

It doesn't make sense to have two competing Presbyterian mission conferences. Most pastors and lay leaders interested in mission will have to make a choice between which one to attend. A comparison of the conference websites shows that PGF's conference is more extensive and well-organized than the denominational conference. It makes me wonder whether the PCUSA considered contacting the PGF leadership and offering to help set up workshops or speakers to showcase the denomination's mission efforts at the PGF conference, since the PGF initiated this effort last year. That would not only save duplication of effort and resources but be a helpful model of unity for the Presbyterian church as a whole.

I'm afraid that the answer is that the PGF conference is seen by the powers-that-be in Louisville as just for the evangelical/conservative/missional wing of the church and that there is a need for a separate conference for denominational progressives/loyalists. I hope I'm wrong and they just didn't think about investigating the possibility of working together. Mission ought to be something we can all agree on.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

NO Fadeout Update

Good friend Dorothy read the blog and proudly told me that her NO hadn't faded out as much as mine. Then she confessed that while I was gone, she agreed to go with the High School youth group on their mission trip this week. Which she also arranged. And that, by the way, she also agreed to volunteer for VBS--but only to do registration and refreshments because she had to provide transportation for her teenage daughter who can't drive herself alone yet and she'd meet herself coming and going and so she might as well stay all morning and...


When she gets back from the mission trip an intervention is in order. Probably involving wine, chocolate and maybe pedicures.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Five, Er, One

Today's Friday Five from the RevGals is the Getaway Island Edition. With apologies to Cathy, today's poster, I am only going to answer the first question, which is: what book(s) will you bring to your fantasy getaway?

I've been planning to write a post encouraging everyone to read Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through The Five Books of Moses by Bruce Feiler for the RGBP book discussion that I'm hosting on the RGBP blog on June 25. So Cathy gave me the perfect opportunity to encourage my readers to join us. You can order a copy of the book through the RGBP Amazon bookstore by clicking on the link on the sidebar of the RGBP blog.

Walking the Bible is a great book to take along to your fantasy island. What could be better than accompanying journalist Feiler as explores the geographical source of his Jewish faith? You'll learn from his interviews with noted scholars and will be inspired when Feiler reads Bible stories in their natural surroundings. You'll have adventures and insights along the way and gain a better understanding of the Bible and the land out of which Judaism and Christianity emerged.

Bruce Feiler is a witty and engaging author with an inquisitive mind and sharp intellect. I promise that you'll enjoy a virtual trip to the Holy Lands from the safety of your fantasy island or even at home. Start reading now so you can join the book discussion June 25th! You don't have to be a RGBP blogger to join in. I'll cross post the discussion at QG that day as well.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Kylemore Dreamin'

This slideshow of my photos shows Kylemore Abbey near Connemara in Ireland. Babs had a poster of Kylemore displayed in her college rooms and so we had to visit it. It's just as gorgeous as it looks! There's a sparkling lake, extensive gardens, a beautiful Gothic chapel as well as the castle-like Abbey itself on the grounds.

And guess what? It's also a RETREAT CENTER! Are you RevGals dreaming what I'm dreaming? Let's start saving now.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

NO Fadeout

Good friend Dorothy and I have an agreement: whenever we are tempted to overextend ourselves, we remind each other that it's time to have that international "NO" symbol re-tatooed on our foreheads to fend off the appeals.

Ahem. Going on vacation seems to have erased that NO from my forehead. Must be the jet lag. Since I got back I have agreed to:

Join the Discipleship Team at my church;

Help plan the Sunday School class studies for the class we have been attending;

Join the Stewardship Team at Presbytery which involves visiting a Tall Steeple Church session meeting and asking (begging) them to increase their benevolence giving;

Help a pastor friend find an intellectual property lawyer to help his church trademark the name of its annual community event;

And, last but not least, attend the Big Event planning meeting in Atlanta for RGBP, Inc. next month.

When I see Dorothy later this week I'll find out if her NO held up any better than mine.

I'm betting not.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Babs at Newgrange

These are pictures of the Megalithic passage tomb at Newgrange in Ireland's Boyne Valley. Archaeologists estimate that the tomb was built circa 3500 B.C., which makes it older than Egypt's pyramids. This was the oldest site the QG family has ever visited and because no one knows anything about the people who built it or why they built it, Newgrange is interesting but not informative.

The interior of the tomb captures the light at the winter solstice for 17 minutes. The tour guide said that one theory was that the people believed that the light of the winter solstice shining on the remains released the souls of the dead buried in the tomb, but they didn't really know if that was correct so you can make up your own story if you like. For me, Newgrange was a reminder of the universal symbolism of light overcoming darkness so powerfully presented in the Gospel of John, and found in the myths of people all over the world.

Babs gave it her Much Ado About Nothing award, so I invited her to complete this post as guest blogger. Here's Babsy's review of Newgrange:
For starters the museum connected to the megalithic structure looked like something that came out of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It involved plastic dolls dressed as Native American princesses -- complete with moccasins and beads -- dragging stones to and from the building site. The exhibit where they theorized what the children did was my favorite part. It had them bringing their parents food and fanning them. You know how the Irish have problems with heat stroke.

When we went inside the tomb El Jefe felt very claustrophobic as the height was about 6'. When we got inside the tomb they turned off the lights and simulated the winter solstice with a 40 watt bulb. I then decided to put Portia and DK 's name in a drawing to win a chance to be inside the tomb at Newgrange when the real winter solstice happens in December. Surprisingly, I had no interest in being there myself.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Black 47 and Katrina

I took the pictures here near Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. They show scenes of a "famine village." The terrible famine in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century was caused by the failure of the potato crop which sustained the population and resulted in death, suffering and emigration on a massive scale. Our tour guide explained that in 1847 (called Black 47 in Ireland) the landlords evicted all of the people for failing to pay rent and then burned the roofs of their homes and all of their belongings.

Those evicted were left to live and starve on their own, with no assistance from the British government, which governed the country at that time. Our tour guide said that those who lived on the west side of the country usually left for the United States and Canada, while those on the east side usually left for the UK and then Australia. Those traveling to the US faced a 30% mortality rate onboard--hence the term "coffin ships" was coined to describe them. Those traveling to Australia fared much better because the ship's captains were paid according to the number of people who arrived at their destination safely.

Almost a century and half later, these ruins still remain. The guide said that the people didn't want to tear down these structures and rebuild because of their belief that would disturb the spirits of the evicted families. I had to wonder if the reluctance to tear them down was also rooted in concern that this ugly part of history would be forgotten--built over and eradicated-- instead of remembered. Today some of these properties are being bought for development as vacation homes for British and European owners who don't share the Irish view of the famine villages. Still, the area is really eerie and sad today.

When the guide mentioned that during this time Liverpool had over 500,000 Irish refugees descend upon the city, I was reminded that only 2 years ago Houston received the same number (or more) refugees from Hurricane Katrina. It's hard to imagine Americans leaving the ruins of New Orleans or the Mississippi coast untouched as a memorial to the devastation that storm wreaked on the area rather than rebuilding it as quickly as possible.

Although Black 47 was an act of man and Katrina was an act of nature, in both cases communities were shattered and dispersed as desperate people fled their ruined homes seeking new lives elsewhere. And in both cases their governments failed to assist the people affected in a timely and efficient fashion.

El Jefe's ancestor Patrick Harrington left Ireland circa Black 47 for America, so this story is also his family's story. Patrick Harrington fled Ireland aboard one of the infamous coffin ships from Cork, Ireland. He survived the journey which took him to Halifax and shortly afterwards made his way to New England. Subsequently he traveled westward and participated in the Oklahoma land rush, becoming a landowner which would have been an impossible dream for him if he had stayed (and survived) in Ireland.

One hundred sixty years after Black 47 we are living in the Houston area which continues to cope with the Katrina diaspora and that is our story, too. Most of the Katrina evacuees will probably remain in Houston and in the other cities where they settled. Today Ireland's biggest export remains its people--more than 48 million of Irish descent worldwide compared to slightly under 6 million in the Irish Republic. That's the legacy of Black 47 and the ruined "famine villages" give their mute testimony to it. Meanwhile the legacy of Katrina is being addressed up and down the ravaged Gulf Coast and we are still living it.

And Hurricane Season began 3 days ago.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Quick Impressions of Ireland

I'm planning to do some posting on our trip (yes, with photos!) on several topics over the next couple of weeks. Until then, here are some quick thoughts on our trip.

~The QG family does not handle jet lag well despite taking Ambien, drinking lots of water and following all the advice we get from well-traveled friends. We do fine flying home, but it seems to take us 3 days to recover when we fly east. This trip was no exception. Man (and woman) were not meant to cross several time zones in a few hours!

~Ireland is indeed green, green, green. See my photo taken at Galway Bay at left. This was not photo-shopped!

~A tourist would be forgiven for thinking that Ireland is an island of golf courses floating on a sea of Guiness Stout and Jameson Whiskey with more sheep than people. In fact I suggest the national anthem should be Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze."

~The Irish people are incredibly welcoming and helpful to random tourists like ourselves. But the fact that the streets change names almost every block and there are very few street signs makes for confusion and frustration when trying to follow a map.

~Ireland was having its national election while we were there. El Jefe tried hard to get a grip on the issues by reading the local newspapers, but failed.

~Huge cranes litter the Dublin landscape as there is a tremendous building boom, fueled by the fact that Ireland is a member of the EU and has an educated work force that speaks English, the international language of business.

~The Taoiseach is the head of government (like a Prime Minister). This is pronounced Tea-Shock, a Celtic word meaning "chieftan." There was some kind of financial scandal surrounding the incumbent that was reminiscent of American politics. You had your Clintonesque head of state (Bernie Ahern, the longtime Taoiseach), your foreign influence peddler (a Brit in this case), your financial funny business and much posturing on all sides with the Irish press having a field day in the middle of it all. And the Irish people, like Americans, were utterly bored by all the fuss.

~The official language of Ireland is Irish Celtic and you see it everywhere. It's completely unrecognizable to those of us who are familiar with Germanic and Latin-based languages. Think Tolkein's Elvish and you get the idea. Babs learned that the Irish version of her real name is Sinead!

~Ireland is the most homogeneous population that I remember seeing anywhere. There are almost no Africans, Asians, or Arabs in evidence even in the capital city of Dublin. With their membership in the EU, this is going to change and no doubt the Irish Republic will have conflicts between diverse groups.

~As God is my witness, I will never fly tourist class across the Atlantic again. I can't get my long legs stuffed into those seats and was in utter agony by the time we landed. Poor Babs (our "shrimp" at a mere 5'10 1/2") has bruises all over her shins from the flights. El Jefe ( 6'5 1/2") is usually stoic about it, given the cost differential, but this time admitted that he was really miserable, too, and indulged in a major whinefest. Next time I will use those frequent flyer miles and try to upgrade. Thus spake Scarlett O'Grace.