Friday, June 30, 2017

Europe 2017: Oxford and Observations

I'm kind of bored with the "and here's what I did next" posts. Let's do something a little different today. I'll give you some observations, in random order, of what I did today!

Buses are great.

After last night's stupidity, I wised up today. This morning I grabbed the bus from outside St. Hugh's and took it into town. I am buying a few souvenirs, and my bag is starting to get a bit heavy. Luckily, my one-and-done days are almost over and I'll have two weeks of light bags once I get to Germany!

The reason I went into town was to drop off said bag so I didn't have to lug it around all day. Rail stations in England don't have lockers, but after doing some digging last night I was glad to see that Backpacking Oxford, a hostel near the rail station, did offer to store bags for a fee. I found the place (almost accidentally) and left my heavy bag there. On the way back the guy that got my bag found it to be pretty heavy! I think it's heavy, too, but I don't mind it on my back.

I took the bus out to the Natural History Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum (which are in the same building) because I thought they opened at 9 while everything else opened at 10. Wrong - it also opened at 10! I got there about 20 minutes early. And I wasn't the only one that thought it opened at 9 - there were three or four other groups that tried the door before 10. 

The museums were interesting - of course, the Natural History Museum featured dinosaur bones and the chronicling of evolution, even having a statue of Charles Darwin on the wall (he debated there - there was a plinth outside that said so). I preferred the Pitt Rivers Museum, which was a collection of many different items from all the continents. I was particularly interested in the stuff from North America, and I noticed that a lot of the stuff they have is stuff that I cover in this year's Social Studies curriculum! I took lots of pictures and look forward to showing them to my students. 

Anyway, back to buses. When I went to Kingham via the train, we were dropped off about a mile away from the actual village of Kingham. It was roughly the same amount of time to get from the rail station to my bed and breakfast than it was to get to St. Hugh's last night. So when I saw a bus stop outside the station, I said, "Screw this!" And instead of walking, like I'd planned, I waited 20 minutes for the bus. I got round-trip fare for 2 pounds 20, and I didn't have to walk. It was pretty great. 

Tourists are everywhere...sort of. 

I ended up in the northernmost Oxford college, surrounded by large streets lined with trees and various collegiate buildings. I felt like the only tourist in the area - there were a lot of people at St. Hugh's for conferences and summer school, but one or two people in my hallway in the main building. 

Speaking of that, I enjoyed the "art" they had in the hallway. St. Hugh's started in the 1880s as a school for girls, and some of the framed pictures are actually letters and notices from back in the day, instructing the girls of what not to do. 

The dining hall of St. Hugh's is open for a free "full English breakfast," which I found out consists of eggs, bacon or sausage (different from home, but still bacon and sausage), toast, beans (yes, beans), tomatoes, fruit, and drinks. There were a bunch of people there for the conference, and we had to take a tray, college-style down to the kitchen windows and they staff would give us what we wanted. 

After I took the bus down to the museums and started to see more of the colleges in the city centre, the tourists all started to emerge. There were five or six walking tours offered along Broad Street, plus the hop-on, hop-off bus tours that were constantly coming down the block. Luckily there aren't many students around right now. 

I actually signed up for a walking tour, and I was concerned I'd be a part of one of those giant tours with 30-50 people and there's one tour guide with a parasol or something. But when I showed up the guy said I was the only one that signed up for that slot! He was going to cancel it, but suddenly two American families showed up and he convinced them to pay for the tour.

We were led around by Simon, who was very good at pointing out the architecture and history of the buildings - not just access to the colleges. The Sheldonian, the Clarendon, and the Bodleian are all public buildings that all the colleges pay for, and each represents a different time period - the Sheldonian is Roman, the Clarendon is Greek (it actually has the same proportions as the Parthenon), and the Bodleian is Biblical...I guess. That's what he said. He also mentioned that the Bodleian is square, representing religion, and the Radcliffe Camera is circular, representing learning. (It's a library - you can't go in; students only.)

We did get to go into New College and view a few places. There weren't many tourists there at all, which was awesome. While we didn't see the chapel (someone was rehearsing - we could hear him from outside practicing his song), we did see the dining hall, grounds, garden, and a beautiful area that was actually used in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Harry talks to Cedric and then is accosted by Malfoy, who is turned into a ferret by Professor Mad-Eye Moody. Actually, Simon took out his phone and showed us that scene when we were standing by the tree, and it looks exactly like it does today!

That tour gave some nice in-depth information, including pointing out The King's Arms pub, where many people say that Shakespeare often stayed. 

You could tell I was with tourists on the tour, though. The tour guide was pretty quick  when walking, but the rest of them would just saunter up and down the street. C'mon, guys!

As I walked down Broad Street at lunchtime it was crazy! So many people were walking up and down the streets, stopping and taking pictures. 

There were a ton of people at Christ Church, as well. A giant tour group was clogging the ticketing counter, but since I'd already purchased my ticket, I kind of ducked behind them and went in. No one told me to stop, so I went off and did the whole tour!

I did get to see what the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies was based off of, and the chapel here was open. Charles Wesley and John Locke have memorials here. They have evensong most evenings, so the choir area had books that I was able to open. Two of the books didn't have any music, and the songbook had just the melody up top with words on the bottom. Lutherans would riot if that was a regular thing in our hymnal!

However, when I took the train out to Kingham, I found no tourists, and it's amazing. It's the kind of break I really needed. There's lots of locals frequenting the restaurants and families walking around and going to the parks. And best of all? It's so quiet. It's so quiet, as a matter of fact, that I could hear a hoedown party going on over at the Kingham primary school! (I saw posters; that's why I know.) Of course, their version of a hoedown is a bit different from ours. The music I heard was an accordion!

There's still a few students around.

Most of the colleges have ended the term, but a couple are wrapping up this week and next. You can tell some of the students by their snazzily dressed selves - seeing tuxedos wasn't uncommon. As I was going on the tour, I saw a comedic sight: a man walking down the street in his tux, covered in a party hat, shaving cream, and silly string, but he wasn't fazed. He was just walking down and checking his phone. The tour guide noted that after someone has completed his or her last exam, their friends attack and decorate them with anything that might come in handy. 

That explained the confetti I found all over the street near Merton College and the group of revelers I passed wearing feather boas and also covered in silly string. 

Oxford is not a campus town - it is a collegiate town. (There's a difference.)

While I can say I went to Oxford, I kind of think it's hard for me to say I went to "Oxford University." There are 38 colleges connected to Oxford University, each with their own system. I was able to see many of the colleges as I walked around, but all of them were either closed to the public or charged a fee to see certain sites on the campus. The most prestigious college - All Souls - is completely closed off, even though it has one of the prime locations. 

However, I got a little perk by climbing up the belltower of St. Mary's Cathedral and seeing a nice view from above. Plus, you could see the mechanical workings of the clock and bell, and I happened to be looking at it when the clock struck three!

That leads me to my next observation:

Heights over access.

I will take a climb up stairs for a gorgeous view over being able to go into a building any day!

People in Kingham name their houses and now I want to do that.

Every single house I passed in Kingham had an adorable name plaque on their house. "Orchard View," "Moat End," "Summer Lane," "Witch's Corner," and more, and it was fun to see the creative names all over the place. Why don't more people name their houses? 

Tea is still not good

I tried the house tea at a shop in Oxford, and no milk or sugar could solve the issue of bad taste. I wasn't too keen on the salmon ciabatta sandwich that I had, either. However, I ordered the almond-chocolate cake, and they heated it for me and gave me some whipping cream on the side, and it was delicious!

My dinner tonight was much better. On the recommendation of my hosts, Mike and Gwym, I went to the Mill House in Kingham Even though there was a special dinner going on and my food would take a while, I was willing to sit around and wait. The wait was worth it; I ordered chicken pie and "new" potatoes with a pint of Guinness, and it was great! One of the best meals I've had since I got here!

One more train trip back to London for the day, in a place that is very special to me! See you tomorrow!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Europe 2017: Out of Town

Have I mentioned yet how much I love the Tube? It is an interconnecting set of passageways where you go underground, get swept up by a metal rod, and then dropped off in a completely different area from where you were. I needed to get from Victoria station to Euston station to catch the London Overground, and in a few quick minutes I was there!

I thought that all my train tickets were time-sensitive, and my reservation was for 7:57 a.m. I hadn't been leaving the Cherry Court Hotel - a lovely little nook that I will miss, with its reliable wifi, bathroom en suite, cable television, and air conditioning - until 8 every morning, so this time I had to backtrack my alarm clock an hour, leaving at 7 instead.

Because of this, Victoria station wasn't as bustling as it had been the past two mornings. Apparently in London "rush hour" doesn't start until 7:30 or so. But that made me confident that I wouldn't have issues getting to the Tube with all my luggage.

When I got to Euston I noticed a train for Watford Junction was leaving in about ten minutes, so I figured I would get on that train instead of the one that was leaving at 7:57. I only had a reservation paper and needed to get my tickets, but thanks to Valerie last night, I went to a kiosk, put in the credit card I'd used, typed in my confirmation code, and all the tickets I would need for the next few days popped out! She saved me a lot of hassle.

The trains here work in the same manner as the Tube system - you could pound your Oyster or contactless card on the button and get through the gate, or you could shove a ticket in and then it would pop out the top if you needed it again. When your travel was done, the ticket would stay. Instead of using my Oyster card for the rest of the day, I had tickets ready to go.

The Overground train was a bit wider than the Underground trains I'd been on, and there were far fewer people since it was going out of the city rather than zipping around in the city. I settled in and wrote in my journal as we went from the starting destination to the final destination: Watford Junction.

The Warner Bros. Studio Lot isn't actually in Watford Junction - it's in Leavesden. But this was the easiest way to get people out of London and to the studio. There's a shuttle bus (cost two pounds fifty round trip) that will take you straight from the station to the studio tour.

Since I'd left on the earlier train, I was the second group to get there. A family of five from Seattle was already waiting. The mom asked me how early I'd booked my ticket, and I said about February. She mentioned that she and her youngest son had tried to go on an earlier trip but it was sold out, and she said that the rest of this summer was already sold out, too! Now I'm really glad I booked it early!

The buses hadn't started working yet when we were waiting, so we waited out in the bus terminal for about 15 minutes before a double decker bus wrapped with the Harry Potter Studio picture came around. Naturally, I got on the top deck. We waited on the bus for about 15 minutes before taking off, but a bit of that wait time was due to some construction on the road that was blocking the bus terminal.

As we rode, Jason Isaacs - Lucius Malfoy - came on and welcomed us to the tour. Then some - cast members? I can't figure out what they would be without thinking of the Disney term - told us the instructions. Luckily it did mention that there was a cloakroom and items could be checked there. I was hoping for a bag locker area at the Watford Junction train station but there wasn't one. This would solve the problem of my large green bag.

We got there and I was one of the first people off. We were the first shuttle of the day, which was incredibly helpful. My Disney travel experience paid off tremendously! I went to the outside ticket kiosk, typed in my code and got my ticket, went to bag security, where I didn't have to wait, then went to the cloakroom and handed over my green bag. I was like a machine.

Then I had about 25 minutes before the studio officially opened! The cafe and store were open, so I went over to the store and looked at the massive amount of merchandise they have. Yes, Universal Studios fans, the merchandise here is different from what they have at the theme parks! I was very impressed. I remember almost 20 years ago when the first bits of merchandise were released - it was pretty crappy stuff. (I shouldn't be too snarky - one of my travel notebooks on this trip is a Hogwarts notebook from that era.)

The queue to get in had almost as many switchbacks as Heathrow, it seemed, but it wasn't even close. Still, I made sure to get in the queue quickly, and was only about three switchbacks behind. They featured Harry's room under the cupboard as you waited, so as you passed by you could take pictures inside.

Firstly, they take you into a Disney-like preshow, where there's screens on the walls and no furniture inside. You're just supposed to fill in the available space, and there's doors on the other end. (Hint: go right next to the doors on the other end. They're going to open!) A man welcomed us and we watched a video of how the movies created the insane hype that exists today. Then those doors opened and we were in a theater. We took a seat (going all the way to the end of the row and filling in every available seat) and the lady there joked that we were now going to watch all eight Harry Potter movies in a row and she'd see us tomorrow morning.

But instead we watched a film of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint welcoming us to the Studio that they'd called home for ten years. They were "standing" (I'm pretty sure it was a green screen) behind the large doors of Hogwarts. Then they told us to have fun and went into the doors, shutting them behind the three of them. The cool thing was that the screen rose, revealing those very doors behind it! That got lots of "oohs" from the audience.

The lady pushed the doors open, and we were in the Great Hall - the one used in the movies! Not all the tables were there - just on the outside, so we could walk - but a lot of costumes were also set up around the room.

This was the only space where we were all in one place while a person narrated the area to us. They want to make the reveal as cool as possible, so they release people in shifts. After the Great Hall, we are supposed to continue the tour at our own pace.

It was pretty light for the first half hour, but then it did start to pick up a bit. It was kind of hard to get shots without someone in them. But they had so many costumes out - especially from the final five movies or so - and wigs, too, labeled for each actor. Not all the sets were there completely, but they had segments from all the important ones, like the Gryffindor common room, the Potions dungeon, the Burrow, Dumbledore's office (where they had the robes for Michael Gambon and Richard Harris), and Hagrid's hut. My favorite pieces were from the Ministry of Magic - those bright tiles all one color that are laid all over the walls. I just really connected with that art design, and they had both the green and red areas shown in the studio. They also had the "Magic Is Might" statue from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, which is an incredibly sad piece of artwork, but after seeing different examples of art yesterday at the British Museum, I was much more interested in seeing how the people looked and moved in this piece of set design. I'd call it art, honestly.

A new exhibition had recently opened - the Forbidden Forest. They had an audio animatronic of Buckbeak, who moved, crowed, and bowed before you. He did it with such lifelike precision that I was enamored!

They had an area with some special effects, too, where Aragorn and the other spiders come to attack you. That was a bit spooky for me - I don't like spiders. But then they showed examples of how they created the lifelike looks of the trees - it definitely isn't just a cut-and-paint job.

The Hogwarts Express was next, and since I'd been to Florida, this was less of a jaw dropper than it could have been. But it was still pretty awesome! They had several Platform 9 3/4s where you could look like you were going into the wall, so I guess I don't have to seek it out at King's Cross if I don't have the time!

By this point I'd been touring around for an hour and a half. I also had done a "free" photo opportunity where I could pose for a wanted poster and fly on a broomstick. The thing is that if you want the photo or the DVD, where they gave you a costume and insert backgrounds, you have to pay. Yes, I did decide to buy my wanted poster. I looked pretty dumb on my flying video, though it was fun seeing me in those robes!

They conveniently put a cafe lunch stop about 3/4ths of the way through the tour, and it's the only place outside of Universal Studios where you can purchase butterbeer (not the frozen kind, though, which is better IMO). Some cast members I talked to said it's better here because it's made in England, but when I had it, can I admit that it was better at the theme park? Is that bad?

I was excited to connect to the wifi for the studio (after a long back-and-forth with getting my phone to log me in - it's becoming a real annoyance), and I sent my family about 20 Snapchats from my time at the studios. Since it's a five hour difference, they must have been shocked to wake up in the morning to find their phones slammed with videos and pictures! Sorry, family. Hope you weren't annoyed.

There is an outdoor portion of the tour that contains the Dursley's house on Privet Drive and the Potter's smashed house. They also have the tressel bridge from Hogwarts, and I'd managed to get out there before it was crowded with people and got a great shot from inside it all by myself!

The crowds here are definitely international. There were not many Brits in the crowds of people I passed and heard talking. Most were Americans, but there were others from all over the continent, too.

Inside the second studio was mechanical props and body parts, like the heads of the goblins, the Monster Book of Monsters, and a mandrake. They had the head of the Hungarian Horntail and the Basilisk hanging out, some devil's snare, and thestrals.

Next was concept art - incredibly detailed drawings of props, vehicles, and even sets that were created by Stuart Craig. That guy is a genius.

The next room was taking the ideas of J.K. Rowling and painting them. These pieces of art were gorgeous! I want them in the next editions of the books, or at least to be sold as prints. I want them in my house.

They also had card models of several setpieces, but that got pushed aside when you went into the second-to-last room - the scale model of Hogwarts. It's not a tiny thing, either - the room is huge! They used it for swooping shots and filled in the rest of the work around it. The cool thing is that it has different lighting, so as it goes from day to night there are little lights that turn on inside. You can walk all around it as you go down a level and see it from all sides. I didn't get emotional seeing it like I did the original Disneyland model, but I came pretty close.

The final room was an Ollivanders-like room with shelves and shelves of wands, with each box named with a member of the Harry Potter crew. I thought that was a cool touch.

We emptied back out into the gift shop, and the tour was done! Well, sort of. Before getting to the gift shop, I turned around and walked all the way back to the Great Hall and sauntered through the whole thing again, this time without my camera. I made sure to notice every little item and detail. It was a good idea to do that.

They've done a great job converting a working studio into a tourist attraction, and if you love Harry Potter, this is a requirement. But I wouldn't go out of my way to do it. Going to Florida or California and seeing the theme park versions is just as good. (Plus: frozen butterbeer!)

I got back on the shuttle that took me back to Watford Junction. Even though I was in the right direction (northwest) I was unable to find a train ticket from that location to Oxford. So I had to take the Overground back to London, take the Underground to Marylebone station, where the train to Oxford would be departing. It meant extending my travels a bit, but maybe it was just a nice opportunity to relax, which I definitely did.

The Marylebone station is interesting. There's not much seating around the departure screen, so everyone is standing around, waiting to see which platform from which their train will be leaving. Some are posted early, but others, like mine, don't post until about five minutes before, for some reason. So all of us are staring at the screen, waiting for them to say which platform to go to, and then the number "2" flashes up and everyone starts running for the platform! I'd never seen that before, but I joined along gleefully.

This was my first real train travel of the trip. The seats were forward and backward facing and there were some with tables in between. I had to sit in a backwards seat, which I hate, but this trip actually wasn't so bad for me. I got a window seat, and was using my portable charger to charge up my phone, which desperately needed a charge after three hours of touring and Snapchatting.

I had gotten myself a Cornish pasty from a kiosk before I left, and was very pleased with it. Unlike the Yooper pasty, this one actually has a bit of gravy inside, and the crust is much thicker. It actually reminded me of the crust on the Banquet pot pies that Dad used to buy for us when Mom was in grad school. (I loved that crust!) The only real problem with it was that the crust was very crumbly and got all over the place!

As we went by, we passed National Stadium in Wembley, marking the second Olympic stadium I have ever seen! It was quite exciting.

After about an hour on the rails we made it to Oxford station. There were far fewer tourists in Oxford, which was very welcome. But I made a rather big mistake when I got there. Instead of inquiring about the bus travel, I walked to my lodging.

The walk wasn't very long - about 20 minutes - but if I'd checked with the bus, I would have seen that I could have purchased a 24-hour pass that would have worked for the entirety of my stay in Oxford. It would have saved me a bit of time, and allowed me to see more of the city this evening than I actually did.

Unfortunately, I didn't know that information until I passed a bus terminal after dinner. Instead, I walked to St. Hugh's. (It wasn't a bad walk, to be completely honest - even with my heavy green bag.)

The porter at the entrance showed me a map and told me my room was on the second level. Well, I went up one flight and started looking around. My room wasn't there! But then I remembered that in Europe, they have the ground floor, then the first floor, then the second floor. I was actually only on the first floor! So I went up another level, and found my room with little difficulty.

The room is very nice, and honestly bigger than my room at Cherry Court. But this one doesn't have some of my key items: en suite bathroom, television, and air conditioning! The bathrooms are down the hall, the showers are a different room, and I had to open the window to free up the air flow in the room. I also was having a lot of trouble with my phone cooperating with the wifi - it didn't start to work until after I'd gotten back from dinner, so I was pretty clueless as to where to go in the evening. The maps provided didn't do a very good job, and I guess Oxford was the place that I didn't study enough before leaving.

I got out of the room and walked south and managed to find a nice, quiet street with several food choices. I decided on The Rose and Crown pub, where I got a half-pint of their milk stout and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. There was pretty much no seating inside, so I ate out back in their patio area, which was frequented by groups of locals. (The milk stout was delicious. The sandwich not so much.)

I walked around North Park for a bit, watching some club members practicing tennis on the lawn. I also sat outside my own college's garden area, which was nice. There's a conference or something going on, so there's quite a few people milling about here and there.

It was funny doing all of the bathroom necessities back in a dorm setting - I didn't have to do it during Worship Conference, so this is something I haven't done in quite a while! I was wishing for my plastic shower caddy back.

Tomorrow I will look to get a bus pass for the day and also look into storing my green bag somewhere so I don't have to lug it around. It will be a little calmer of a day, I think!

Read about my day in Oxford HERE!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Europe 2017: All Over London

Today was much less structured, and much more on the whim.

I started out at Kensington Palace, where William and Kate live with their children. I didn't go in, but just took a picture. It took me a while to get there - I was going to take the bus, but I couldn't find the correct bus stop. When I took the Tube instead, I exited outside in the wrong direction and had to retrace my steps!

My route was just as confusing in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Even though I was moving due east, there are trails all over the place in every direction. I had two stops that I wanted to take: the Prince Albert Memorial, and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. As a result, I was always checking maps to see if I was still going in the right direction.

I did find both the memorials. The Prince Albert Memorial is huge and quite gaudy, constructed at the request of Queen Victoria when her husband died. It did remind me very much of the renovations done under Victoria at St. Paul's. The Diana Memorial was opened in 2004 and is much more of a contemplative space. More people will probably be stopping there in the next few weeks since August is the 20th anniversary of her death.

After the memorials my route was much more straightforward, and it took less time to cover more ground. I crossed all of Hyde Park and made it to St. James' Park, which is next door to Buckingham Palace. I got to the Queen Victoria Memorial, which is in front of the Palace, around 10:30. I knew that the changing of the guard took place around that time, and already there were thousands of people clamoring at the wall. Luckily, I had read that it's easier to see it all from the top steps of the Memorial, so I positioned myself there.

As soon as I got set up, I could hear the Band of the Welsh Guards starting to play from behind me. They came up and through the gate, along with the New Guard. They started performing their duties behind the gate, when suddenly we could hear another band playing behind us!

To our surprise, another band and another group of soldiers emerged, carrying the flag of...Canada! There are two bands that perform, and today it was the Royal Canadian Artillery Band. The Queen's Guard (that are at St. James' Palace and come over for the changing of the guard before returning) was Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Apparently they are serving as the Queen's Guard until July 3, and are being led by a female infantry officer for the first time ever - Captain Megan Couto. (She did it for the first time on Monday.)

After all the groups were in the gate, they did various marches, the bands played off each other, and then the Old Guard exited, along with the Queen's Guard, who are at St. James' Palace. I got to see the RCA Band several times up close, as they marched down The Mall.

I'm glad I did it, and I'm thrilled I got there right when it started. But I don't know if I would ever do it again.

I walked down The Mall and found Regency Street, where I had lunch at Shoryu Ramen. I had the standard tongkotsu ramen (pork), and it was very, very good! Best of all, it wasn't a large portion, so I slurped it all down gladly.

I had been planning on going to the National Gallery, but at the last minute decided to do the British Museum instead. Unfortunately, so did many other people - it was very crowded in the most popular places! It's a free museum, but if you want a map, a book guide, or an audio guide, you have to pay for it. Luckily, I had my own audio guide downloaded from Rick Steeves' website, along with a skeleton map. It helped me get around to the most prominent features of the Museum, including the Rosetta Stone, the head of Ramses II, very interesting Assyrian art, and Greek vases. The most important feature was the remnants of the Parthenon that had been taken from Greece. It was disappointing that they had been taken in the first place, but it was still incredible to see them in person.

I took the Tube down to Westminster and decided to visit the Houses of Parliament. They weren't doing tours since both houses are in session, but I could visit one of the houses and listen to them debate - for free!

The queue was quite small, which was great. I ended up going to the House of Commons (green), which is a little more loud and opinionated than the House of Lords. Before I could get there, I had to go through a security check point, get a badge, follow the directions of the staff members, sign an agreement that I wouldn't disrupt the session, drop off my purse at a coat check, and go up a bunch of stairs!

However, even through all of that, it was still pretty cool to be there. Not all the MPs were present, but those that did were discussing the Queen's Speech - mostly about Health, Social Care, and Security. The big topic was on tax cuts or raising pay for healthcare workers. A few of the MPs got pretty heated about the topic, and they were on both sides. A liberal kept saying that the tax cuts wouldn't be necessary because we could get money from the "big, giant Tory money tree" that is providing luxuries for the conservative properties. You could tell when their opinion was pointed because other MPs would chime in with a chorus of approval or dissention.

I have seen state government at work back in the States, but this was my first time seeing federal government, and it was great. I hope that I can see our US federal government at work sometime!

By the way, I had to go through Westminster Hall to get to the House of Commons, and it's beautiful! They had statues for famous British politicians (including Oliver Cromwell, who might be a bit of a controversial choice if you know anything about him) and plaques where famous speeches have been made or famous people have laid in state - I saw the location of Winston Churchill and King George IV's coffins when they were laid in state.

After leaving Westminster, I took the bus up to Covent Garden, where I was meeting up with a friend. We had arranged a meeting time and place, but I was so worried that I would get lost or be late that I ended up in the area an hour early! So I went to Covent Garden, which is a pretty hip district with restaurants, shops, sellers, and buskers all around. It is a common place to go for the evening hours.

I wandered along the main area of Covent Garden and made a few purchases (including some books for the nieces and nephew!) and my piece of London artwork to add to my collection.

My friend Valerie, who was a classmate of mine in high school and also went to China with the group I was in back in 2008, lives and works in London and invited me to one of her top restaurant choices in London. We ate outside and had fish and chips. The fish - it was cod, Dad - was good, but the chips were delicious! I was sad I couldn't eat more of the food. The waitress actually asked me if something was wrong, and I had to be honest and say I was just full!

Not full enough to get a half-pint, though. We walked over to a craft beer pub nearby and each had a beer. I went with my normal stout, and it was good, just like normal! I was glad to check off "fish and chips" and "get a pint at the pub" off my to-do list.

We went to the Tube station together and split from there, and I got back to my hotel in record time. It was the latest I'd returned to the room in my three days, and I needed to set aside some time for packing, because tomorrow I am spending the night in a new location outside of London! I can't wait to share my travels with you!

Read about my experience at the Harry Potter Studio HERE!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Europe 2017: Tower of London, St. Paul's, and The Globe

My feet are sore! More on that later.

I slept like a log last night, and woke up really excited to get out there and get started - never mind that most attractions don't open until 10. Fortunately, the Tower of London opens at 9, and I had reserved my ticket ahead of time.

To get there is too far to walk, so I took the Tube. I never thought I was much of a crowd person, but I really loved being around the hustle and bustle as everyone is headed off to work. Just seeing everyone criss-crossing to make it to their correct destination is fascinating! I couldn't help but smile as I joined them.

I could have taken the Tube all the way to Tower Hill, but I decided to utilize another perk of my Oyster card: the River Bus! It takes people to various stops along the River Thames, and it doesn't cost anything extra! I got off at Westminster and joined the River Bus there.

It was extra fun seeing all the major sites from the river itself, and I didn't have to book a river cruise or anything!

I got off at Tower Hill and made my way to the Tower of London, where they had just opened. I had missed the first Beefeater tour, so I decided to see the Crown Jewels. It had been advised in Rick Steeves' book to do that right away early in the morning, because the crowds get crazy. I'm glad I remembered that; outside the building were a bunch of steel queue rails that, at my time of the day, weren't being used!

I had to wait inside a little bit, but once you get in the bling is in every room. They have done a fantastic job explaining the items and for what they are used. Finally, after seeing royal trumpets, maces, swords, and the royal robe, we were taken to the royal items that are used at the coronation of the king/queen. They had to be remade after the British Civil War because the originals had been melted down. The oldest item is the Coronation Spoon from the 12th century! (They use it to anoint the oil on the royal's head, by the way.)

The room to view the royal items is long and narrow, and they use a motorized walkway on either side to get people through faster. Luckily, they have a second step of observation, so I just went around and onto the walkway again to view everything. I did that four times!

Not only do they have the coronation crown (St. Edward's Crown) that is only used at the coronation, so it hasn't been used since 1953. The Queen usually wears the Imperial State Crown, which she wears at the opening of Parliament every year. They had the Queen Mother's crown, Consort crowns, and prince crowns. With the crowns are the scepters and orb, also used at the coronation. The scepters represent the royal as the head of church and the head of state. They actually had to make a second scepter and orb when Mary II was crowned as sovereign ruler along with her husband, William III. (That answered my question of why the College of William and Mary mentions both of them!)

Afterwards they had non-coronation royal items, including the banquet ware, like the Great Punch Bowl, which can hold 144 bottles of wine and opening on top is 1 meter long! I also saw the royal baptismal font which is used to baptize babies in the royal family.

Needless to say, this area was fascinating, and worth the price of my admission. (And no, I couldn't take photos.) But I still had the rest of the Tower of London to visit!

I went back to the Beefeater tour, which ended up being a huge group of peoples! We had Bill as our guide, and he was awesomely rude. He would yell at people to hurry up, but he also was incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable. He was a former officer in the British Army, so he insulted at the Beefeaters from the Navy, Marines, and Air Force. He also loved to poke fun at the United States and France.

I went up many of the towers there, including the ones where Anne Boelyn stayed, Sir Walter Raleigh wrote, and the two young princes - nephews of Richard III - were kept (and apparently murdered - a fascinating story!). I went up the White Tower and saw more historical artifacts. I saw the graffiti etched into some of the prison quarters by prisoners. And I got out my umbrella that I purchased yesterday, because rain has returned to London!

My second stop of the day was St. Paul's Cathedral, after a quick soft-serve ice cream cone. Amongst all the buildings suddenly rises this massive domed structure, and it is huge and beautiful. I couldn't believe that I was going up the steps that had been famously mentioned by Mary Poppins in "Feed the Birds." (Watch that segment - those are the steps!)

There was no birdwoman, or I would have certainly bought a bag.

I entered and once again received an audio guide at no extra cost (the one at the Tower cost four pounds - I decided not to get it.) This was built after the Great Fire, designed by Christopher Wren, who also designed many of the churches built after the fire. It was a Baroque style, which meant that icons and statues were missing, and the facade was very simple. But then Queen Victoria decided to plaster Victorian-style mosaics and paintings on the eastern half, so it's quite a remarkable change of pace.

I saw the American chapel, which is dedicated to the American soldiers who were stationed in Britain and died in World War II. On a stained glass window is George Washington up in the corner!

As I was looking around, suddenly the organ started to play, and my ears perked up. They were starting their Eucharist service, and he was playing preservice on an organ console on the floor (that could be shut up and wheeled around, to my fascination!). The echo chamber is incredible here - he finished the piece and the final chord echoed for a full three seconds. You may think that's not very long, but count a full three seconds and think of a sound that isn't being played anymore filling that whole time. It was incredible!

I didn't stick around for the Eucharist service, but instead went up the Dome. Let's just say that I no longer love spiral staircases. There were 528 steps to get up to the Golden Gallery, where you can find some amazing views of London. I climbed all of them, but I was tired!

I came down just as the organist was playing postservice - Elgar's "Nimrod." If you know this piece, you know that at the end it blasts off with all the sounds before finally ending quietly. I got to hear the organ with everything pulled out, and it was beautiful. I'll never think of that piece the same way again.

I quick stopped for a panini to eat on the road while I crossed the Millennium Bridge (yes, the one from Harry Potter) to get to Shakespeare's Globe. This is not the original - that burned down - but it's a pretty accurate replica. I had an online ticket to see Twelfth Night, and I was glad I got it because the production was sold out!

In true Shakespearean style, I purchased the cheapest ticket - a five pound Yard ticket, which meant I had to stand for all 2 hours and 40 minutes. Luckily, while most people positioned themselves right in front, I went over to the left side and found myself leaning against the stage itself! It was a great view, plus when it started to rain I was able to shield myself from most of it because of the roof that goes over the stage.

The cast was great, and I loved being so close as they wandered around the stage. It was an interesting version of Twelfth Night, to say the least. They sang a lot - some were musical versions of the sonnets, but others were 1970s tunes like Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." If people weren't dressed in Scottish garb, they were in '70s clothing, too. I thought that was pretty neat.

Once the play was done, I went back to St. Paul's to view their Evensong. It was a 40 minute service with a few readings and liturgy and songs done by the choir. The first time the choir started singing, I had that throat thingy, where your throat suddenly contracts and tears start to form at your eyes. What a sound! There were young boys, but also men and women in the choir. They knew how to sing.

It was raining steadily when I got out of Evensong, so I happily joined the throng of umbrella-clad businesspeople and was pretty much thrilled to be there. Don't worry, people - I am taking a lot of time to enjoy the fact that I'm here.

I stopped by a restaurant called Cojean for supper and had a fish stir fry that was very good. I took transportation back to my Tube station and was done for the day!

Well, sort of. I stopped by a pharmacy and bought two Cadbury chocolate bars, too. I had to! It's England!

Tomorrow is a much less structured day - I have no online reservations for anything. I'm looking forward to wingin' it!

Read about my third day in London HERE!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Europe 2017: London and Westminster

Hello from the United Kingdom! I am in my tiny hotel room after an insane two days where I got zero sleep.

I got dropped off at O'Hare on Sunday afternoon and had no problem with my carry-on and personal bag getting through security. This was my first time on IcelandAir, and it was cool to get a bottle of their special water as you got on the plane! They also had a blanket and pillow at every seat, along with their television on every seat.

I watched La La Land first, and I absolutely loved it. It had a profound effect on me, definitely. I tried to use the 3 hours of darkness (which encapsulated whatever my "Sunday night" was) to sleep, but there were screaming babies and I just couldn't get comfortable. So I watched Romancing the Stone instead, which was not what I expected, but still fun.

We landed at Rekyjavik airport but had to take a shuttle bus to the terminal itself. In Iceland it was cold and cloudy, and didn't make the area very inviting! I purchased a sandwich (which ended up being delicious) as breakfast and then got right back on the exact same plane.

I watched Inception during this 2 1/2 hour trip, and that movie is required watching. It's brilliant on all accounts.

Before I knew it, we landed (rather roughly) in Heathrow airport! I was in the middle of the plane, so plenty of people got out before I did. The entrance check-in for non-EU and non-UK visitors was excruciatingly long. It wasn't because of the security - they had 30 checkpoints. It was just that there were so many of us!

We finally got through, I got some British pounds out of the ATM, purchased an Oyster card so I could go on the London Underground, and used it immediately to get from Heathrow to my "local" station. It was pretty easy to navigate!

I wandered around for a bit before finding my cute little street where my hotel was located. It was early, but I had given them a heads-up that I'd be there, and they had my insanely tiny room ready. I don't mind - I just needed a bed, bathroom of my own, and air conditioning, and I have all three!

I put up my feet for a grand total of 10 minutes and then was out the door again. I had purchased two tickets for today: Westminster Abbey and the Churchill War Rooms. I was SO glad I had gotten them online; I got to use the "fastpass" line and bypass a bunch of people still waiting to get their tickets.

It may have been the sheer exhaustion, but I cried a lot as I walked around Westminster Abbey. I'd seen it on television and computers for so long, and now I was there in person. I spent a lot of time around the organ and choir area. I got to see Queen Elizabeth I, Handel, Chamberlain, and a bunch of other kings, prime ministers, and poets' tombs, and it was utterly crazy to think that their bones were under my feet!

Best of all, as I walked around, the organist started to practice! He wasn't playing anything fancy, but I just stood there and listened.

I walked down to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. They're under construction, and I have a feeling they're adding some safety measures to that area, since that was where there was a car terrorist attack a little while ago.

I loved walking around Parliament Square and looking at all the statues and historical buildings. I walked down Whitehall and made it to Trafalgar Square, which was a sea of humanity that was glorious.

On the way I did the Churchill War Rooms, which was a fantastic museum. I learned a lot about Churchill and the war rooms where they stayed as the Blitz took place above.

I didn't take any public transportation after I got to my hotel, but I'm certainly planning on doing that tomorrow - my feet are tired!

I am going to sleep like a log tonight!

Read about my second day in London HERE!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Europe 2017: The Long Flight

If you are a frequent traveler inside the continental United States, you may think an Atlanta-to-San Francisco flight is a long one: 5 hours. But it isn't until you've experienced a trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flight where you know you've experienced a long flight.

My longest trip was definitely from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Tokyo. It was 12 hours in the air. I didn't even realize that planes could stay in the air that long!

So what can you do to avoid complete and total boredom in the air? Read on:

Get Ready Mentally

Short flights don't feel short sometimes. Even a simple 2-hour flight from Denver to Milwaukee can take ages if are thinking it's going to be wheels-up, wheels-down. 

I know I can make it through a long flight if I understand exactly how long the flight is going to be and what I can do during the flight. I'll prepare a lot of things to do and listen to. If I do that, I know I can make it without problems. 

Movies and Music

I have a Kindle Fire and have a few movies that I can watch using wifi. I can only download about four or five to watch offline, but I make sure that they're all ready and my Kindle Fire is charged and ready to go. 

Many trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific airlines will offer movies that you can watch as well - most are free. Nowadays television shows are also offered. 

Warning: if you know you're also coming back with the same airline in the same month, ration those movies and shows! They probably won't change them until the following month. 

Music is also great. I don't sleep too well on flights, so I put in my headphones and zone out with my music playlists. 

Both of these lead well into my next point:

Bring All The Equipment

Headphones are so necessary! It doesn't matter what kind of headphones, whether they're Bose or earbuds or noise-cancelling - just make sure to bring them along!

Other key equipment is chargers. Lots of flights have outlets now, so it's more important now than ever to bring chargers along and not leave them in the suitcase. 

If you need some peace and quiet, earbuds are cheap, small, and valuable. It's a great, inexpensive way to tune people out.

Trust Your Flight Crew

The pilots and flight attendants do this kind of trip all the time. Don't think that you're introducing some new idea or concept to them - you aren't. Instead, trust that they know what's going on. 

In my trans-oceanic travels the flight attendants are very good at making sure we adjust to our new time zone. They give us dinner, they shut the shades when it's supposed to be nighttime (even if the sun is high in the sky as we fly), and then they give us breakfast about four hours after that dinner. It might seem odd that they're constantly moving  from one phase of the day to the next, but it really does help.

It is also important to remember respect. They're the ones in charge for the next few hours, so be kind to them at the start of the journey and if you get bored, they sometimes make the best people with which to converse. 

Diversify Your Actions

At the start of the flight, read something! Listen to some music. Then eat some food and enjoy a TV show or movie. Doze off. Then read again. If you keep switching from one thing to another (not every five minutes, mind you) the trip doesn't become stale. And suddenly, you're beginning the preparations for landing!

Right now I am working on getting myself mentally ready for my two long flights tomorrow. Tomorrow? Tomorrow! I can't believe it's nearly here!

Read about Day 1 HERE!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Europe 2017: Packing Is the Worst

I used to love packing. The deep decisions that had to be made would cause my brain to send out signals of happiness. What cool outfit should I wear? What shoes need to come? What CDs should I include in my travel case? (Yes kids, this was a problem.)

I loved packing because it meant I was going somewhere and doing something different.

Packing started to become a chore when I just kept going places. My family and friends are spread out all over the country, and I am usually the one packing up my stuff and seeing them because it's much easier for me to go to them than it is for them to come to me.

Most of the time I just throw a bunch of stuff in a bag and call it good. It takes a unique vacation to cause me to pack carefully. Next week's Europe trip just so happens to be one of those unique vacations.

I have done what seems like millions of hours of preparations, and one thing that keeps coming up is to pack lightly! I can understand why; there will be a few times on my trip where I will be going almost all day with my luggage, and I'd rather not pull a rolling suitcase or sling a duffel bag over my shoulder.

I purchased a soft-sided suitcase from that not only is lightweight, but also has backpack straps. The best part about the suitcase is that it is carry-on size.

Does that mean I am only traveling for three weeks with just a carry-on suitcase? Well, yes and no.

To be completely honest, that bag will carry all of my essentials. Since I can only travel with a small bag of 3oz liquids, I am planning on buying a few toiletries (like sunscreen) when I arrive in Europe. I was able to pack a week's worth of clothing, which really is all I need, because I can wash my clothes over there! (What an amazing idea!)

For the first two weeks, that's my plan. But since I'm joining the VBS crew in Plzen for the third week, I actually gave them my small rolling-bag suitcase filled with all of my VBS two or three outfits.

This type of packing method is a far cry from my "pack everything I may need!" mantra. I know that it will be pretty easy for me to stop at a pharmacy or convenience store and grab something I might require.

When it comes to technology, though, I am finding it more difficult to whittle my items down. The actual devices themselves are small and easy to pack, but there are so many cords! Trying to keep them all organized and in their own respective areas without becoming nuisances is hard. I plan on getting a few more drawstring bags to hold them in place!

Thankfully, I am almost done with my packing. I have a few more odds and ends to throw in, but it looks like my bag will not be overflowing.  I may even have room enough to fit a few pieces of artwork to add to my World Art wall!

Read about How to Enjoy Long Flights HERE!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Day 6 Worship Conference 2017: The Light that Knows No End

Read about Day 5 HERE!

What a lovely week.

I am now sitting at home watching my cat Riza run around. I am thoroughly exhausted, which is good. If any of you were at the conference and feel the same way I do, then well done. That means that you made the most of your time while you were at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

To those of you that weren't able to go, I pray that you will seriously consider attending in the future. As I've said before, this conference isn't just for music people! It's for everyone. It gives people ideas for worship. It allows laypeople to open a dialogue with their pastor, worship coordinator, or worship committee on ways to enhance worship. It provides so many resources for all the members of Christ's church.

The finished Pentecost artwork. (See yesterday's blog.)
Today we had a simple schedule. (Simple, at least, for those not at all involved in the chapel events of the day. If you had any of those scheduled...well, you were busy.) After breakfast everyone gathered for Pentecost worship. (Pentecost, by the way, has turned into my favorite Christian holiday.) We were led in worship by piano and a variety of instruments, from bass guitar, guitar, and a drum set to strings, oboe, clarinet, flute, and saxophone. A small choir led us in the more challenging songs that were commissioned for this service.

Some might say that the service was "contemporary." (That's even how many people categorized it at the conference. They would tell each other, "This morning is the contemporary service." But let's be honest. The word "contemporary" means "existing in the present" or "occurring at the same time." If you think about that first definition, the "Isaiah Mighty Seer in Days of Old" we sang yesterday is also a contemporary piece, but very different from the "Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord" that we sang this morning. So can we just call it "worship" please?

The service was a great way to point out to people alternative ways of worship while still keeping the focus squarely on God the Holy Spirit.

My only sectional of the day was a choral reading for unison/2-part music. It had some nice items, but nothing that would really work for Junior Choir. I made sure to put on my evaluation form, "Please include a Junior Choir choral reading session next time!" We'll see if they listen to my request.

The Children's Choir and Honor Choir
Finally we all gathered in the chapel one last time to hear the hard work put forth by the grade school and high school choirs that have been around all week. While the Children's Choir had been adding to worship in many of the services, the Honor Choir had been working up to this closing concert, and it was our first time hearing them.

They did a great job following conductor Jon Laabs, and you could tell they were enjoying the pieces that they performed. They really got down to Robert Ray's piece "Credo: I Believe In God" from The Gospel Mass. It was funky and the congregation had fun, too!

My favorite piece actually came from the Children's Choir, and it was written by current favorite composer Dan Forrest. "Psalm 8" had amazing dissonant chords from the choir combined with a piano that did not do much assistance to the kids (but was beautiful), violin, and djembe.

We ended the concert as we always have done since 1996: singing "Jerusalem the Golden" using the tune "Jupiter" from Gustav Holtz' The Planets. In 2014 Dale Witte composed the perfect arrangement of this song with which to end the concert. When the piece began the same way today, I was thrilled! If they decide to use this arrangement from now until the end of time to finish our WELS Worship Conferences, I would not be disappointed at all.

Final BINGO tally. Alas, no blackout. But
I did get a lot of comments about it!
Many tears were shed during the singing of that final hymn, because that piece now has etched itself into many people's hearts as "the Worship Conference piece." It reminds us of the fond memories we have created in the past, the wonderful sermons, songs, artwork that we've experienced, and the great friends we have found. Put all of that into one song, and the waterworks are going to start for sure.

I take away many physical notes, papers, and music, but I primarily take away a sense of community between all these people. We all come to this conference with a yearning to make worship better at our home congregations. Hopefully we learn how to educate those same congregation members and open dialogue so that we don't get shut down or create rifts in worship. We seek to unify, not promote ourselves!

So what will you do with all this new knowledge? What one item will you definitely share?

I take this away: all our praise, no matter how it's done, will continue to praise God forever. As "Jerusalem the Golden"'s final stanza says,

"To God enthroned in glory the Church's voices blend,
the Lamb forever blessed, the Light that knows no end."

It's been a privilege to stay up late writing these articles for you to enjoy. My Europe trip is in nine days, can you believe it?! I'll be blogging as much as I can, so please like Blurb Musings on Facebook or bookmark this website to stay updated on all the fun I'm experiencing overseas! 

One final Worship Conference video to wrap all this up. This is "Jerusalem the Golden" from Friday, June 16, 2017. Take care, everyone! (Video by Dale Witte)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Day 5 Worship Conference 2017: Tips and Tricks

Missed the Day 4 recap? Read it HERE!

Today I was going around the conference thinking of all the good tips and tricks I could share with you. When I started to write them down, I just kept writing, and writing, and writing!

I pray that someday you'll get a chance to come to this wonderful event. If you do, here are some things to keep in mind:

You are not at a hotel.

Some conferences and conventions take place at hotels with a separate convention space. Many people are used to a hotel room with all the amenities and toiletries they would need, plus a daily maid service. 

This is not one of those conferences. Many people stay in dorm rooms, which means reverting back to old college (or high school) living. Make sure to bring the following items:
  • soap
  • shampoo/conditioner
  • tissues
  • maybe another roll of toilet paper, if you get an en suite like we did
  • a large towel (they provide you with some, but if you like 'em big, bring your own)
  • fitted bedsheet (same thing - you get two top sheets so you could make do if you're not picky)
  • blanket (ditto)
  • notebook (some people just write in their conference booklets, but if you like jotting down notes, just bring your own notebook)
  • pen and pencil
  • fan
  • snacks (for me, I could kill for a Hershey bar right now)

It will take you longer to walk around than you think.

I enjoy my current dorm location. However, it is quite a hike to the chapel. I don't need to use golf carts, and you probably don't, either, so make sure to bring good walking shoes and get ready to move!

You will not sleep much.

With the Gem├╝tlichkeit gathering last night (and every night) and my ultra-early wake-up call this morning, I only got 5 hours of solid sleep last night. Since this is a short conference, just be ready to cut down on the shuteye, and I hope you get to sleep in on Saturday!

You will not see everything.

Pick your battles. Do not suffer from FOMO. Enjoy the stuff you're doing, the workshops you're seeing, and the worship you're experiencing. But when you know it's time to do something else, just go. Unless Jesus shows up in the Todd Wehr building for a few minutes, you'll probably be okay.

One of my sectionals ended up being canceled, so I went to a sectional featuring the Children's Choir director, Kurt Cereske. Man, that guy is so talented at directing children! I had a page filled with notes as he pretty much just stood up there and talked and did a few warmups with the kids. While I was disappointed my conducting sectional was canceled, I was so glad I got to check this out. 

Utilize alternatives.

There were many more people in the Student Union today getting lunch and dinner, and I think people are realizing that it's delicious, even though there's not as many choices. 

At the same time, the majority of people just automatically go to the cafeteria because that's what they always do. Some people had to come to the Student Union because the cafeteria got so full that there was a lady informing people that there was no seating upstairs and they had to go across the street! Later she stood on the sidewalk and encouraged people to check out the alternative meal. 

Those with mobility issues should always accept a ride on a golf cart. You'll get to wherever you're going with time to spare!

And finally, I'll let you in on my big secret: there are better bathrooms at the library right next to the chapel. The chapel has very tiny bathrooms and yet people still automatically go there. But take a few steps north, and right inside the library are six stalls per bathroom, and they're much more spacious!

Enjoy the art.

While the official name for this event is the National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts, many times and the Arts is ignored. A lot of effort is put into enhancing the worship and displaying art made by WELS artists. Take the time to appreciate the work!

Near the exhibitor room is artwork that people have put out to be viewed and judged. In the past, the hall has been full, but this year there were a handful of artists who displayed work. But the artwork is stellar! 

There has always been an Attendee Participation Art piece, too. In 2008 my friends and I stumbled across it on our first day. That year they had triangles and invited people to decorate one. We collaborated on a single triangle, and then we were very surprised to see our triangles put up in the chapel for Friday morning's worship service! You can see the final result below:

This year the service on Friday is Pentecost, so we were invited to paint a sheet with things that remind us of the gift of the Holy Spirit. You can see the poster and the artwork (unfinished; this was taken Thursday afternoon) here:

I ended up thinking of the fact that the apostles were speaking in different languages as they were filled with the Holy Spirit, so I wrote down the phrase, "Praise the Lord!" in Czech:

Oddly enough, as I was writing, a guy asked me the language and picked out the Bohemian. He decided to write another Czech phrase on the other side!

I can't wait to see how it's displayed tomorrow. It makes me feel proud to look at a beautiful piece displayed at church and think, "I had a part in making that." 

Don't skip church!

It is perfectly fine to skip certain sessions if you're exhausted and need a nap. Every meal does not need to be eaten. But if you're at Worship Conference, you are going for the worship. Don't miss it! (Does this contradict what I said earlier? No. The services are always the only thing going on when they occur, so you can't miss anything else.)

Each service is different. While I love the first day of the conference, it always seems to be Thursday that brings out the best services. That happened last conference with the "Many Voices - One Lord" service that I and many people loved. 

This year we did the All Saints' Day service in the morning, and Ascension in the evening. I was part of the All Saints' Choir, and our pieces went incredibly well for such short practices beforehand. My Mendelssohn piece ended up during communion, so it wasn't as effective as I would have liked, but the definite thrill of the service was from a commissioned piece based on "Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old." It was written by Jeremy Bakken, editor at Northwestern Publishing House, and it involved many different parts. The children started it by doing a chanting session, explaining the vision that Isaiah sees. Then the double choir joined in, singing the part of the angels. The instruments - percussion and brass - came in next, and the congregation copied the choir. 

Now when we'd practiced it, we didn't have all the different parts together. It sounded nice, but it was just another piece. But at the service itself, we suddenly had the entire congregation singing along with the choir and the children and the instruments, and it was one of those ethereal moments. I talked to many people afterwards who were so effected by that piece. It was truly incredible. 

We started the Ascension service with candlelight. Beautiful!
The evening's Ascension service also provided some great heavenly sounds. The choir had nine pieces to learn. One was a fun setting of Psalm 150, and the other was an insane arrangement of "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing" with eleven brass players, three percussionists, organ, choir, and congregation. The arrangement was perfect for the occasion, and it was glorious. 

The moral? Don't skip the worship. 

See the displays before Thursday night.

I had initially planned on going to the displays on Thursday night because I would have completed my organ reading session by then. Unfortunately, when I got there at 10pm, many displays had already been taken down and much of the popular music was gone. 

I was able to spend money and get lots of great resources, but I didn't get to enjoy the entire thing. Lesson learned. I will make the time to look at those things early and purchase stuff right away.

Don't do too many "reading" sessions.

When I talk about these sessions, I am referring to Northwestern Publishing House-sponsored sessions, where they get certain choir music, organ books, or piano books together and preview them for you, so you can listen and decide if that's something you want. 

They have many different offerings - easy, difficult, unison voices, SATB, piano, organ, etc. But all these are offered during the normal presentation times. 

It is great to get these items (especially the choral music, because you've paid to get these sample copies that you can take home), but don't fill your entire presentation list with these sessions. Limit yourself to two, I would say, and then enjoy the presenters and their resources, too.

(And as a memo to myself: Claire, don't go to any more piano/organ sessions.)

Don't freak out because the presenters have informed you that you've been doing everything wrong.

At a sectional it would be very easy to fall into a sort of depression, because when the presenter talks about something "bad" that they've seen, you might realize that you've been doing that "bad" thing all along. 

Ignore that. Realize that stuff is in the past, and embrace the advice they're telling you now. Focus on the future of your ministry. 

Go to Synod presentations.

In 2014 and 2017 there was a special presentation given by the Hymnal Project director, Michael Schultz. He gave a lot of information and answered questions. He's really good at it - he doesn't get flustered and can crack a joke if people start getting a bit opinionated. 

You can take that information back to the congregation and prepare them for what's coming. It's never too early! (By the way, it looks like December 2021 is when the NEW Hymnal is going to be released!)

This is a recharging station.

I think many attendees at this conference leave it with a new sense of vigor for worship. Three years is a great gap for the conference, because by the third year, maybe things are getting a bit stale in your congregation. 

Worship Conference gives you a chance to compare notes with other congregations, see what the synod has to offer, and just relax and enjoy! Use this as a way to recharge those batteries. Gain new information and ideas, narrow it down to the stuff you find usable, and then go home and introduce it (slowly!) to your congregation. 

They might not be too receptive at the start, but give them time. They might need a bit of a recharge, too. 

Tomorrow's the last day! But it won't end with a whisper - it will end with a bang. Stay tuned to hear about the Pentecost service and the closing concert!

Read about Day 6 HERE!