Mongolian Barbecue – Kansas style

Tonight I had the pleasure of dining at the Mongolian Barbecue in Overland Park, Kansas.  This was my first time eating at this restaurant, which offers a rather novel concept of “make your own” stir-fry.  Patrons select the items they wish to include in their dish from a bountiful buffet of meats, veggies and sauces.  Then they take their bowl of victuals to a huge round grill where the cooks prepare the final product.  It reminded me of a Japanese-style steak house, but with a more relaxed (and somewhat amusing) twist.

But the real treat for me and Sherry was the chance to visit with some good friends who live in the Kansas City area.  I particularly enjoyed having a chance to catch up with my godson, Trevor. I took this shot of him at the restaurant with my digital camera (which I’m glad I brought along, because Trevor had a camera with him that used the same kind of battery, but his wasn’t charged up, so we shared my charged-up battery.) Trevor’s a junior in high school now, active in soccer, bowling, drama and forensics, and a bright, pleasant fellow.  It’s neat that he also has an iPod Touch; I guess brilliant minds think alike. We talked about Facebook, and I found it interesting that it has become so popular among high school students so quickly after starting off primarily among the college crowd. And of course, it was nice to visit with his mom, Michelle, her friend, Ed, and our host in Kansas, Ellen and her son Mike. It was a very pleasant evening, and one of the highlights of our 2007 holiday journey.

For more photos from our visit, check out my Facebook album. Trevor also posted some photos in his Facebook album.

A visit to Newlin Grist Mill

This morning my wife, sister-in-law and I paid a visit to the Newlin Grist Mill, a restoration of a water-powered mill that was originally established in 1704. I didn’t know quite what to expect at first, as I’m not a huge history buff, and hardly a “mill enthusiast.” But it turned out to be a very interesting and enjoyable visit.

We began at the visitor’s center, a small building that houses a few exhibits, a small video theater, and a gift shop. After looking at some of the exhibits, we watched a brief video about the mill, with a somewhat corny but cute story about a young boy who found himself “transported back in time” by a visit to the mill. We were then asked if we would like to take the guided tour ($5 a person). My sister-in-law offered to pay, so we took her up on the offer, and spent the next hour or so listening to an informative tour guide describe in detail the intricacies of water power, wooden gears and spinning grind stones. The most impressive part of the tour was when the tour guide turned the water on, and we were able to watch the huge water wheel being set in motion. It was loud and impressive, and we got to see the mill mechanism “in action,” not once, but twice, from two different rooms of the mill.

After the tour of the mill, we looked at some of the other buildings on the property, including the neighboring miller’s house, which housed quite a few antiques. We also enjoyed just walking the grounds. The mill is surrounded by a beautiful park, featuring a trout pond, picnic tables, an idyllic creek and numerous walking trails. It was a beautiful morning for a walk, and taking lots of pictures, of course.

The Newlin Grist Mill is located in Concord Township in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, just off of Route 1 and Cheyney Road. Both my wife and I have passed by the Mill many times while driving down Route 1, but neither of us had stopped to visit. We’re glad we did…the Newlin Grist Mill is well worth turning off of busy Route 1 to step back to a simpler, slower time.

I’ve posted more pictures from our visit to this Picasa Web Album.

Fun with Panoramas

I recently have been experimenting with panoramic photography. During my recent travels, I attempted to take a number of photographs that could later be stitched together into QuickTime VR panoramas. Below are links to some example panoramas I created using DoubleTake, a handy program for panoramic stitching on the Mac. They aren’t perfect, as you can still notice some seams if you look closely. But I don’t think they’re bad for an amateur.

To move around in the panoramas, just click and move the mouse. Use the shift key to zoom in and the control key to zoom out. Note that you’ll need to have QuickTime installed on your computer to view these files.

Farewell, Ruth Bell Graham

Billy&Ruth.jpgRuth Bell Graham died today at the age of 87. She was the wife of evangelist Billy Graham and the mother of their five children. The obituary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reports that Billy and their children were all present by her bedside as she passed away in Little Piney Cove, their expansive homestead in Montreat, North Carolina. The Los Angeles Times reports that Ruth will be buried at the foot of the cross in the Prayer Garden of the recently-opened Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.

My wife and I visited the Billy Graham Library just this past Tuesday, stopping by on our drive home from Florida. We took a number of pictures, including this one of the Prayer Garden where Ruth will be memorialized. It is a beautiful, peaceful setting, adjacent to the Library and the recreated Graham Family Homestead.PrayerGarden.jpg

Among the many exhibits in the Library is a special room devoted to the life of Ruth Graham. She was a remarkable woman who led a full life. She was born in China as the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries Dr. Nelson and Virginia Bell. Early in her life, Ruth had dreamed of being a missionary in Tibet. But then Ruth met Billy while they were students at Wheaton College in Illinois. They were married in 1943, shortly after they graduated from Wheaton. I took the picture below of Ruth’s diploma from Wheaton, which is on display in the Library. Next to the diploma is one of the tin cans she made into light fixtures in the Graham home in Montreat, North Carolina. Apparently she was a very resourceful homemaker.RBGDiploma.jpg

The Billy Graham Library is really more of a museum than a library. For scholars, historians and others interested in Dr. Graham’s papers and writings, a more academic library is located at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Nevertheless, the Billy Graham Library is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the Charlotte area. There are numerous multimedia exhibits in the Library, as well as a bookstore and a small cafe. If you take the complete tour, you can expect to be exposed to some mild proselytizing, including the traditional “invitation” in the “finale” theater, with the obligatory “Just As I Am” music in the background and a group of counselors waiting to pray with you as you leave the auditorium. But to anyone who has attended a Billy Graham crusade or watched one on television, the evangelistic flavor of the closing moments of the tour seems entirely fitting. Indeed, I remarked to my wife as we were leaving how I thought today’s preachers could benefit from the simple, direct and positive approach that was Dr. Graham’s hallmark.

The Billy Graham Library is located at 4330 Westmont Drive, just off of Billy Graham Parkway, and not far from I-77 and the Charlotte airport. Admission is free, and the complete tour takes about an hour or so. If you would like to see more pictures from our visit, I’ve posted some in a Picassa Web Album.

Booker T. Washington National Monument

On our drive home from our recent Caribbean Cruise, my wife and I decided to skip I-95 and try a more inland route, closer to the Appalachian Mountains. As a result, our route took us through Rocky Mount, Virginia, and the nearby Booker T. Washington National Monument. We enjoyed a visit to this picturesque and informative memorial to one of the most noted African Americans in higher education.

Many people have heard of Booker T. Washington, but they may not know why he was significant. As the helpful guide at the Monument told us, a lot of people confuse Booker T. Washington with George Washington Carver. That’s not surprising, given that both were African Americans, both were born into slavery, both would grow up to become famous educators, both taught at the Tuskegee Institute, both worked to improve race relations in the years following the Civil War, both have National Monuments honoring their memories, and both had Washington in their names. But there were two very different people: Booker was from Virginia while George was from Missouri; Booker founded the Tuskegee Institute, and later invited George to join the faculty; Booker was the more controversial figure, called “The Great Accommodator” by W.E.B. DuBois because he favored cooperation over confrontation in the fight for civil rights; George was perhaps the more widely remembered figure among school children because of his numerous inventions and innovations centered around peanuts.

I’m hardly an expert on African American history, but I’m glad I spent some time learning more about the life of Booker T. Washington at the Monument’s Visitor Center. Not only was it an informative and interesting stop, the Monument is in a beautiful setting, with well-maintained grounds. There are farm animals and crops growing in the fields, a handful of recreated cabins and barns from the mid-1800s, and numerous interpretive signs helping illustrate the natural environment that Booker T. Washington experienced as a young boy growing up as a slave in Franklin County, Virginia.

A Day at Princess Cays

Today the Caribbean Princess stopped at Princess Cays, a private beach for guests of Princess Cruises. It is located on the southern end of Eleutheria Island in the Bahamas, near Bannerman Town.

Although many passengers (including myself at first) pronounced “cays” like “kays,” according to Wikipedia and the online dictionary of Merriam-Webster, the word is more correctly pronounced “keys” as in the Florida Keys and Key West. A cay is a small island, often part of a cluster of islands. Princess Cays is actually a small group of islands connected to Eleutheria Island by a short bridge “to the mainland.”

Unlike other cruise ship ports, where passengers generally must pay extra for food, beach chairs and cabanas, these amenities are provided at Princess Cays (although you can pay extra to reserve a cabana if you wish, as well as rent various water sports equipment). There is no cruise ship pier, so the ship was anchored a good distance away and passengers were “tendered” to and from the beach aboard a fleet of reasonably comfortable lifeboats.

We enjoyed a lazy day at the beach. The weather was a bit threatening, and the water slightly cool, so I was the only one in our party of four to actually swim out any distance. Although it took a minute to adjust to the water,  I eventually swam out about 100 yards. The water was a beautiful clear blue, and the sand was soft (although not quite as smooth as the pink sands of Bermuda). Many of my fellow passengers went snorkeling, and I could see some extensive coral reefs underneath where I was swimming.

After a generous informal buffet lunch on the beach, I walked around the various vendor stands to shop for souvenirs. I didn’t find anything worth buying inside the Princess Cays compound, so I took a short stroll outside of the main entrance gate to look at the booths set up by local artisans. Unfortunately, there seemed to be very little different to choose from outside the gates, although the vendors did seem to be more willing to haggle on price.

So even though we returned to the ship sans curios, we had some pleasant memories of a relaxing day. There was a bit of a wait for the tender ship back to the ship, as the storm clouds grew more threatening in the afternoon. But we made it back to the ship before the rain became a downpour.