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Author Interview

via Here is my interview with C. David Belt

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Sneaking a Breath

We hold a LOT of long notes in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—I mean, a lot of really LONG notes.  Now, as a soloist (although I have never done an INTENTIONAL solo in the Choir, I do have some experience in this area), I can sustain longer notes with the proper breath-control.  But that style of singing doesn’t work in the Choir.  The strong vibrato (wobble) in the voice that a soloist can and does employ stands out.  <best-Rod-Serling-voice>Imagine if you will, 360 singers all singing with their own natural vibrato, all singing out of phase with one another.  Oh, the horror!  (Seriously, it sounds awful.)  So, when we hold those long notes, typically we have to allow some air to escape (called “singing on the breath”).  This means you run out of air much more quickly than you would normally.  And that means you can’t possibly carry the longer notes all the way to the end.

So, we sneak breaths.  And that’s okay, because the other singers us can carry the note while we surreptitiously suck in a partial lung-full of air.  In other words, we don’t have to be “perfect” all the time.  Our brothers and sisters will help carry us along.  And when the guy next to you needs to breathe, you carry the note for him.  It’s actually pretty cool.  We strive for perfection, but we don’t have to be (and can’t be) perfect all the time.

I’m striving to be perfect, to carry my part and sustain those around me.  Life is like that.  We are MEANT to help and sustain each other on our mutual and individual quests for perfection.  We may not be able to carry on all the way to the end without a glitch, but we help each other to get to the end—in the Choir, as in life.

But as we strive to do this, an interesting phenomenon occurs.  We become so in-synch with each other that we start to sneak a breath in the same places.  This not good.  In fact, it is what I like to call… BAD.  You just can’t have everyone stop singing all at once in the middle of a note.  You can’t even have a cluster of just a few voices pause all at once.  It leaves “a hole in the sound”—the microphone picks that up, and it sounds—dare I say it again—BAD.

So, when I notice that I’m sneaking a breath in the same place as the men around me, I have to make a conscious effort to hold on just a little longer.  Once the guy next to me has breathed, I can (quietly) sneak in a little air.

Once again, this parallels life.  In striving for perfection and sustaining and lifting one-another, we have to recognize that each of us matters and each of us is different.  Our efforts are so much more efficient when we lift others according to their needs and their wants, remembering always that each of us is a unique child of God.  Remember the old proverb, “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee, and we’ll ascend together.”

I don’t need you to be the same as me.  I don’t WANT you to be the same as me.  Our subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences are what make us interesting.  Soloists can be great, but a choir can be truly glorious.

Long Before 1776

Four-and-a-half centuries before the Declaration of Independence, the Scots sent this message to the Pope:

As long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself. 

Declaration of Arbroath (1320 A.D.)

You see, the Pope had declared Robert the Bruce to be an illegitimate king and demanded that the Scots submit to Edward II of England.  The Scots said, “No.”  And under Robert the Bruce, they fought and won their independence against overwhelming odds and the vastly superior military might of Edward.  Their spirit is memorialized in song:

O, Flower of Scotland,
When will we see your like again?
Who fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen?
And stood against them,
Proud Edward’s army
And sent them homeward
To think again?

“O, Flower of Scotland,” by Roy Williamson

Do not forget that the Scots feared the power of the Pope more than they feared Edward, because the Pope had the power to excommunicate them.  They feared losing, not only their lives and their property, but their very immortal souls.

And yet they stood.

They stood for the truth that the right to be free comes from God, not from any foreign king, not even from their own king, and certainly not from Rome.  They understood that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died to give us the freedom to choose for ourselves and to live with the consequences of our choices.  This does not come from any president or from any congress.  This comes from God.

There are those who seek to take away our freedoms today.  Some despise these freedoms so much that they wish to wipe us from the earth.  They do not seek to peacefully coexist with us—they want us dead or enslaved.  This enemy is easy to see.

There also those who seek to take away our freedoms in dribs and drabs—here a little, there a little.  And we let them, because we are afraid.  We want someone to take charge, to fix it.  We want someone to make it all better.  We want someone to just take away the pain.  And so we submit to small, “reasonable” restrictions.  After all, the government knows better than we do what we need, right?

And no, I’m not just talking about guns:

  • I’m talking about a local government that tells me when I can and can’t water my own grass. They don’t know that I’m fighting white grubs and so I need to water one patch right now to get the insecticide into and under the soil.  But they know better than I.
  • I’m talking about the school board that decides that my grandchildren need to be taught that polar bears are dying because my wife drives an SUV. They don’t know or care that my wife needs 4-wheel drive in the winter to feel safe or that the conclusion about polar bears is based on pseudo-science driven by a political agenda and money.
  • I’m talking about the government that passes regulations that limits my choices in healthcare and decides which doctors I can see.
  • I’m talking about the city government that decides I must pay for a license to write books in my own home.
  • I’m talking about school boards that ban “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, because someone might be offended (and of course, children should never learn what life was really like in the past).
  • I’m talking about school boards that decide that teaching children to read and write in cursive is no longer necessary, because the rising generation should not be able to read old diaries or documents.
  • I’m talking about a government that decides that schools should skip teaching U.S. history prior to the 20th century (coincidentally, the beginning of the Progressive Movement).
  • I’m talking about federal governments that sets emissions standards that make less wealthy people unable to license otherwise working, reliable vehicles.
  • I’m talking about governments at the federal, state, and local levels that seek to penalize idiots who refuse to stand for the national anthem. (I don’t agree with these whiny millionaires, but they have a right to be idiots and deal with the consequences of their idiocy, and of course, whine about that too.  I don’t think we should be giving tax breaks to these idiots either.  In any event, they have the right to make whatever idiotic statement they choose and deal with the backlash and loss of revenue.  Did I mention I think that they’re idiots?  Well, I will fight to the death to protect their right to their idiocy.)
  • I’m talking about a government that makes me take off my belt and shoes and submit to x-ray screening and/or an invasive “pat-down” search of my groin in order to board an airplane.
  • I’m talking about governments that say a boy should be allowed to shower with the girls, and if the girls don’t like it, tough. (Private businesses can do what they want, and I will take my dollars elsewhere.)
  • I’m talking about a government that takes my tax dollars and gives it to private companies to enable those companies to slaughter unborn children and sell their body parts.
  • I’m talking about…

You get the idea.  I could go on, but I won’t.

Our rights come from God—not from any man or woman or body of men or women, elected or otherwise (ESPECIALLY otherwise).  But it takes courage to recognize that and to stand up for those God-given rights.  It takes courage to say, “No more,” to declare that we will not submit to any further chipping away at those rights.

I believe in obeying the law of the land.  I also believe in actively working within the constitutional system to change oppressive laws that chip away at our freedoms.  I want more speech, not less, even if that speech is offensive.  I want my grandchildren to have access to books that are politically incorrect.  I’m sick to death of having to choose the lesser of two evils.  I’m sick to death of immoral cretins who demand our loyalty because of the letter (R or D) behind their name.  (“We can’t let the OTHER guy or gal get elected, because they belong to the wrong party!”)  I’m sick to death of politicians and unelected officials who exploit crises to further enslave us.  I’m sick to death of elected officials who made promises that they have not kept (if they ever truly intended to keep them).

No more.  You will never get my vote again, even if I have to vote for someone who has no chance of getting elected because he or she doesn’t have an R or a D after their name.  And I invite all other Americans to do the same.

“We are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.” 

To which I say a resounding, “Amen.”

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums,
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes. 

Les Miserables, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”,
by Jean Marc Natel, Alain Albert Boublil,
Herbert Kretzmer, Claude Michel Schonberg

I love my wife.  She is the best person I know.  And “best” doesn’t even begin to encompass her near-perfection.  I could spend all day (and have on occasion) focusing on her many excellent qualities.  She is the love of my life, after all, but I’m not in the least prejudiced when it comes to my wife.  She IS the best.  She is the sweetest, kindest, most loving (not to mention most gorgeous and sexy) woman I have ever met.  And any of you men out there who think YOU got the best one, I’m not at all sorry to say, “YOU’RE WRONG!  I GOT HER!”

Now having said all of that sincerely (as Linus would say, “from the bottom of my socks”), it may shock you to know that on the six occasions when my wife has given birth, she didn’t always say the nicest things to me in the hospital.  That’s right.  My lovely, kind, sweet wife was downright crabby to me and not at all complimentary.  Not ONCE during the labor and delivery process did she say, “Thank you, Dave, for this glorious experience, for making me a mother.”  No, she said things that might be the exact opposite of that…

Now, before any of you ladies out there start throwing things at me through your computer screens (none of your rotten tomatoes will hit me, by the way—they’ll damage your monitor, keyboard, mouse, or computer, but they won’t damage me), allow me to say that my wife’s crabbiness and lack of gratitude was PERFECTLY UNDERSTANDABLE.  She was in PAIN.  And when we are in pain, we don’t always think clearly or act like our normal selves.

There’s a candy bar commercial on TV that says something to the effect of “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”  One could just as easily say, “You’re not you when you’re hurting.”

And we are all hurting right now.  The destruction wrought by the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Florida, and elsewhere has killed and maimed and left many homeless and without water, food, and other basic necessities.  The horrific evil perpetrated by a monster in Las Vegas has murdered, maimed, wounded, and destroyed lives and families.

We are hurting.  And when we are hurting, we can make bad decisions.  There are many who are using and will use this or any other crisis to make political points, to point the finger of blame to advance their own (hopefully) sincere agenda.  But I don’t care what your agenda is or which side you are on.  If you are using these crises to advance any political or social agenda, you are doing so by writing in the blood of the slain.  You are taking advantage of the fact that when people are hurting, we don’t always think clearly.  We just want the pain to go away.

There will be time for “rational debates” and “considerate dialogue” later, but now is not that time.

Now is the time to mourn.  Now is the time to lay our differences aside and come together.

In the face of these devastating events, many stepped up.  Brave men and women ran toward the danger.  Others shielded perfect strangers with their own bodies.  Many have acted in heroic self-sacrifice.  Sometimes, pain and horror can bring out the best in us.

So, let’s BE the best of us.  Donate blood, money, food, clothing, hygiene supplies.  Volunteer in the relief efforts.  Call your loved ones and TELL them you love them.  Do an act of kindness for a neighbor or a stranger.  Shake the hand of an adversary.  If you are so blessed as to still have your family with you, hold them close and be grateful.  Pray.  Sing.  In the words of Ryan Murphy, Associate Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, “When the world gives us ugliness, let’s make beauty.”

Now is the time to be ourselves—no, more than that—now is the time to be our BEST selves.

Probably the oldest weapons known to man (once you get past the fist, the foot, and the teeth) are the rock and the stick.  No one, save God, knows for sure which came first.  But you take a rock and put it on the end of a stick, and you have a MACE.

As most of you know (if you’ve been awake at all for the past several years), I collect weapons and armor.  (I also teach classes on weaponry, including next weekend, August 25th and 26th, at the Utah Valley Renaissance Faire at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah—shameless plug, I know, but come on out!  I sing songs, I tell tales, I pass out all the weapons in my arsenal to the audience and teach how those deadly beauties were used historically.  You will get to handle scores of sharp, pointy, and otherwise lethal treasures.  In short, good times will be had by all!  But I digress, as I so often do…)  One of my treasures (yesss, preshusssss) is a lovely, historically accurate, extremely lethal replica of the River Thames Mace.  Now, the River Thames Mace gets its name from the fact that the original was found along the banks of… YOU GUESSED IT!  …the Mississippi River.  (And if you believe that, let me tell you about a lovely bridge for sale in Brooklyn…)  The original River Thames Mace was discovered along the banks of the River Thames (which Cindy and I got to cruise back in July!) and dates to approximately 1100 A.D.  (“A.D.”, for the painfully ignorant or those who are simply victims of a politically correct educational system, stands for “Anno Domini,” or for the Latin-challenged, “In the year of our Lord”, meaning somewhere, give or take a decade, around 1100 years after the birth of Jesus Christ.)  The mace (and I bet you thought I’d never get back around to the subject at hand), is a flanged mace.  That means, rather than simple metal ball at the end of the stick, you have a head with heavy metal flanges.

Here’s a picture of this wicked beauty:

RT Mace

It weighs about 2 lbs. and is just over 2 feet long.  And it is frighteningly effective.  The flanges make the head of the mace lighter (as compared to a solid steel ball of the same approximate size) so you swing it faster.  The flanges also make the weapon far more lethal.  They allow you to concentrate all the force of the blow at one or two points of impact, easily crushing a helm or a breastplate (and the skull or chest beneath).  In other words, it is nasty, efficiently deadly weapon.

Here’s a close-up view of the head:

rt-mace-head-e1503170116281.jpg

I want you to examine this picture closely.  (Trust me—I have a point.  Although some would say my hair covers my only real point…)  The flanges and the half-sphere at the left end of the head are forged as a single, solid piece of steel.  Then comes a gap (where you can see a bit of the exposed wooden shaft of the handle in between the flanges).  Then comes a longer hollow cylinder of steel which goes around the wooden shaft.  The flanges are welded onto the cylinder near the halfway point.

Now here’s the FUN part!  (And he’ll have fun, fun, fun till his mommy takes his weapon away…)  The River Thames Mace is an historical MYSTERY!  And I LOVE historical mysteries!

You see, the flanges are WELDED onto the cylinder.  Today, the weaponsmiths who make this lovely instrument of death use butane torches (or some other modern method of welding) to attach the flanges to the cylinder.  But in the 11th century, butane welding torches did not exist!  I have enquired diligently among  the blacksmiths and weaponsmiths whom I meet at Renaissance faires and I have learned that the only welding techniques KNOWN to be in use in the 11th century both involved super-heating the steel components over a coal or coke fire (stoked with a bellows) and then hammering the red-hot steel pieces together, thus creating a weld.  The problem is, you cannot hammer the red-hot flanges onto the cylinder without DEFORMING them.  (They wouldn’t stay straight once you start beating them with a hammer.)  In other words, the ancient, long-dead smiths used a welding technology that is LOST to history.  WE DON’T KNOW HOW THEY DID IT!!!

And I take great comfort in the fact that we don’t know how they did it.  I am reassured to know that there are still enigmas out there, there are still things we don’t know, there still things to learn.  When you think you have all the answers, the world isn’t a very fun place anymore.  (I know this from experience, because once upon a time, a very long ago, I was a TEENAGER…)

I LOVE going to Disneyland.  I love the familiarity, the magic, the nostalgia.  When I find out they have closed an older attraction to replace it with a new attraction, I am profoundly saddened.  (They better not EVER remove Snow White’s Wishing Well or the Sleeping Beauty walk-through diorama inside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.  DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, DISNEY!)  But having said that, I also exult in discovering and experiencing the newest creations of the Disney Imagineers.  I love the Disney method of immersive storytelling.  When we visit Disney’s California Adventure, we are likely to go on the Voyage of the Little Mermaid SEVERAL times each day (and surprisingly, nobody seems to object to this).  That one never gets old (and there is almost always some new magical detail to discover).  So, while I revel in enchanted nostalgia, I still find joy in the new magic.  (The new Guardians of the Galaxy ride better be AMAZING, because I LOVED the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!)

The study of history is a voyage of discovery.  On our recent trip to Scotland, Cindy and I went to the memorial and museum at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn.  I love telling the story of that battle in my weapons classes.  It’s a great story.  But now, I will be telling that story a little differently, because I LEARNED something NEW!  I also found out that some of the details in my story (as I told it) were WRONG.  So, I’ll be fixing those and adding in new details of courage and honor—on the side of the ENEMY.  So, now the story will be BETTER!  (And—be ye warned—a wee bit longer…)

Science (like history) is also a voyage of discovery.  Science is all about asking questions and seeking answers.  When you stop asking questions, when you think you know all the answers, when you teach a theory as if it were a proven fact, when you proclaim, “The science is settled!”, you are no longer in the realm of science—you have crossed over the border into the realm of religion.  What is proclaimed as “science” becomes dogma that cannot be challenged.

It should come to nobody as a surprise that I am a man of faith.  (I am an IMPERFECT man of faith, striving to live according to what I believe… and often failing.)  I believe and testify of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.  I boldly proclaim the doctrines of agency and accountability, of repentance and redemption, of salvation and eternal progression and exaltation.  But even in the sacred realm of faith, I don’t DEMAND others believe and adhere just because I believe and because “God said so.”  I invite others to investigate, to ask questions, to seek answers, to ask for and receive spiritual confirmation of eternal truths.

I do believe in ABSOLUTE TRUTH.  I don’t believe for one microsecond that Schrodinger’s Cat is both alive and dead at the same time.  But I also know that I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING.  And that comforts me and enables me to love and be friendly and civil to people who disagree with me, even on things that are VERY IMPORTANT, even on absolute truths.  Even when I know I’m right.

Someday, perhaps, someone will discover how the ancient weaponsmiths made the River Thames Mace.  That mystery will then be solved.  And that will be VERY cool.

But there will still be mysteries in the world.  And I thank Heaven for that.

We’re home now.  We had so many marvelous experiences, but I am most grateful for the blessing of sharing this vacation-of-a-lifetime with my best and dearest friend.  My knee gave me trouble throughout the cruise—I bought a cane in Wales and used it throughout the remainder of the trip—but my lovely Cindy stepped in and took care of me.  As a man, it is terrifying to face limitations to my physical abilities, to admit I can no longer do things that were once so easy, but my beautiful eternal companion was always there to help me with tender kindness and love.  She never once made me feel weak or incapable. 

When Cindy has traveled with me on tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, we have spent a good deal of time apart as I rehearsed or performed with the Choir.  But on this cruise, we were together almost constantly (except during restroom breaks).  And it was wonderful and romantic and fun.  I couldn’t ask for or imagine a better, kinder, or truer friend and lover.  And it doesn’t hurt that she is so easy on the eyes.  We are nearly at our 36th wedding anniversary, and 36 years is far too short a time to be married to this nearly perfect goddess-in-training.  She is my favorite Disney princess, my queen, my joy, my life, and my heart. 

Thank you, my love, for filling my life with magic.

We’re in London.  We didn’t have a lot of time today, but we made the most of it.  We did have a number of frustrations, all of them having to do with transportation to and from the airport.  I won’t go into all of them, but here’s a hint: if someone ever advises you to take the Heathrow Express train to London, DON’T DO IT.  Unbelievably expensive, and once you’re on it, you have to pay and ride it to the end of the line.  Expensive mistake.  Oh, well. 

And the Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5 hotel is… nowhere near the airport, and it costs you a ton to go to and from.  They don’t have courtesy shuttles here.

We got to visit the TOWER OF LONDON!  I saw ravens!  They are HUGE birds.  The Tower Ravens each eat 170g of red meat every day plus “bird biscuits soaked in blood”.  They have been known to prey on lambs.  We are talking big, scary birds. 

I bought a raven plush stuffed animal.  I almost bought one dressed as a Beefeater, but the beak was the wrong color, so…).

And the weapons!!!  So cool. 

Just outside of the White Tower in the center (where all the cool weapons are), there is a bit of the wall left from the original Roman fortress of Londinium. 

Oh, and we saw the Crown Jewels too.  They were cool, I guess. 

Big Ben (now redubbed “Elizabeth Tower”)!  Parliament! 

And… the… Boudicca… Monument…    

Breathe, David.  Just breathe. 

The fish-and-chips we had at a pub near the Boudicca Monument were quite good… until Cindy found three bones in her fish.  So the best fish-and-chips we have ever had were from Alnwyck.  One thing about the fish here—it’s fish-SHAPED.  It doesn’t come in little filets.  You get the entire fish (minus the head, fins, and innards).  I don’t know—I kinda like not having to be reminded of exactly what I’m eating while I’m eating it…  Imagine eating a hotdog shaped like a weird combination of a pig and a chicken…  Mustard ain’t gonna fix that. 

Tomorrow, we’re home. 

Last full day at sea.  It was both relaxing and stressful.  Stressful, because we had to pack and get ready to disembark from the Disney Magic in the morning, and because I actually had a job interview at 10:00 PM.  Yes, I officially unemployed since my latest contract has just finished.  So for the moment, instead of saying, “I’m a software engineer,” I get to say, “Why, yes, I am horror novelist!”  (Because, technically, that’s my only source of income, so buy more books folks—preferably mine!)  So much cool material for the next book… 

Relaxing, because I finally went to the pool!  I went on the Aquadunk—the big water slide-tunnel-bottom-drops-out-from-under-you thingy.  It was fun, not at all scary (not really), and SHORT, even if you do start out with a 30’ drop.  The water was very warm (which was nice, because the wind was strong and chilly).  The pool was restful and had gentle “tides” along the side where small waves went in and out.  I could have fallen asleep.  (Actually, the  motion of the ship makes me sleepy.)  I spent a few minutes in the whirlpool from which I observed a man in a deck chair right next to the pool.  He was fully dressed, wore a sweater and a hat, and had a blanket wrapped around him.  And although he held up a book, I think he was snoring. 

Every crew and cast member we dealt with aboard the Magic was superb.  They treated us like we were someone very special and important.  (Cindy really IS special and important.)  I know they want repeat business and so have a motivation to be pleasant and helpful, but I really feel that our room steward, Elmer, our servers, Pedro and Martin, and our head server, Nundo, were exceptional.  We weren’t just customers, patrons, or even royalty—we were friends and family. 

Tomorrow, it’s back to the real world. 

Well, not quite…

Tomorrow—LONDON!  Yeah, baby!  Yeah! 

(And by the way, the job interview went well, I thought, even if the phone connection dropped—TWICE—at the end.  Have to wait and see…) 

But tomorrow, we have a day (well, an afternoon and an evening) in can-you-believe-it London!  (THEN we fly home the next day…)

To be perfectly honest, today’s excursion was my least-anticipated.  Another castle.  Decorated in an Italianate style.  Priceless art collection.  We simply weren’t excited.  I know it sounds like, “If you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all,” but a 19th century castle just sounded so ho-hum. 

But I have to admit, Alnwyck Castle (pronounced like “panic” minus the “p”—it’s the same language, honest—the “L” and the “W” are silent—makes sense to me…) was beyond impressive.  It’s ENORMOUS.  It’s also the filming location for the first two Harry Potter films, Transformers, Robin Hood—Prince of Thieves, and two Christmas specials from Downton Abbey.  And I recognized so many spots from those films, like the place where Harry and Neville learn to fly.  And even I have to admit the artwork and decorations were impressive.  Of course, my favorite was the room decorated entirely with weapons from the Napoleonic Wars (although I didn’t really covet a single weapon—truly). 

The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland are incredibly wealthy.  One of the Duchesses even had the course of a stream altered just to improve her view.  No kidding.  Money can change the course of rivers…  The castle is their actual residence (although they were not there today). 

The castle guards were really cool, in 19th century uniforms with muskets.  They posed with guests.  I don’t think they were doing their jobs as sentinels, however, because they seemed to let just about anybody in… 

One the Earls of Northumberland (before they were elevated to being dukes) apparently committed treason against Queen Elizabeth (the First).  He was executed, of course, but because he was both a nobleman and a friend of the Queen (some friend), he was mercifully beheaded (rather than drawn-and-quartered, which is an extremely gruesome form of execution, but I won’t describe it here, although I could…).  His death warrant was on display at the castle, signed personally by Elizabeth herself. 

And I wish we could have spent more time in the gardens.  They were magnificent.  A bamboo maze.  A colossal cascading fountain.  A koi pond.  Numerous other fountains.  A poison garden.  (No kidding.)  Our guide in the poison garden was a delightful, soft-spoken man with conspicuous tufts of hair growing out of his ears.  We even saw a robotic lawnmower at work, cutting the grass on a section of the gardens.  We could have easily spent another hour.  Or more. 

We had lunch at the garden and ate the best fish-and-chips we have ever had!  Cindy ate almost a third of my portion (which, to be fair, was much larger).  And she normally hates fried foods! 

On the way back to Newcastle, we also experienced our first British traffic jam.  Most British roads have two (or less) lanes (meaning one in each direction).  However, some of the busier roads (motor ways or carriage ways) have FOUR lanes.  (I’ve heard that London and Manchester have a few eight lane highways.)  My hat is off to our marvelous coach drivers who navigate those narrow roads so skillfully when there seems to be about enough clearance for an inch between coaches (buses). 

We also learned why the British drive on the left (which I now agree is the CORRECT side of the road).  When a knight or soldier was riding a horse, he needed to pass an approaching horseman on the left side so that, if necessary, he could draw his sword with his right hand and defend himself.  The left is the correct and safe side with which to approach oncoming traffic.  This was changed throughout Europe by Napoleon, because the Emperor was LEFT-handed.  The British refused to bow to Napoleon and make the change to the right (WRONG) side.  (I guess we followed old Nappy.)  So they defiantly continue to drive on the LEFT (correct) side. 

The British police are so considerate that they are required by LAW to post a sign warning you that they might be using speed guns/cameras in an area.  They also post a sign if they are monitoring traffic from unmarked vehicles.  How polite!  How sporting! 

Our guide today was John (a good English name) who was—you guessed it—English.  Our coach driver was Brian (a good Scottish name) who was—and I know this might come as a shock—Scottish, with the thickest accent I’ve ever heard.  There were several times when they seemed… at odds.  John, would comment, “The Scots and the English don’t always get along, you see, but we’re all one big United Kingdom.”  He also told us that the fourth verse of the UK national anthem is not at all complimentary to Scots.  (I’m going to have to look that up when I get back.) 

We experienced an amazing, truly head-scratching magic show last night performed by Kyle and Misty Knight.  I was completely astonished.  So was Cindy, and she doesn’t usually care for magicians.  (Something about she doesn’t like to be deceived.  Except at Christmas.  I hope.) 

The weather today was again perfect.  We have been so blessed on this tour. 

As we left port today, local people were lined up on the docks for miles to say goodbye.  One of the boats that followed us had a large, yellow rubber ducky on the deck.  Why?  No freakin’ idea. 

One thing I forgot to mention about Invergordon—the Royal Navy had its newest and largest aircraft carrier docked there.  However, the aircraft carrier has no aircraft.  Not one.  They aren’t expected to be delivered until 2020.  That’s military efficiency for you! 

Tomorrow, we are at sea.  It is our last full day of the cruise.  And I am sad our adventure-of-a-lifetime is coming to a close. 

 

Our tour guide today, James Munro, wore bright red high-water pants, a Saint Andrew’s Cross tie, and a blue shirt.  There was no tartan, but he was dressed, you might say, LOUDLY.  As we boarded the coach, another tour guide, who obviously knew James well, said about his outfit, “You toned it down today.”  His knowledge of the history of the clans in the area was impressive.  He talked a blue (or tartan) streak the entire eight-hour tour, and we loved it.  At one point, he coughed for a bit, then said, “It’s not the cough that carries you off.  It’s the coffin they carry you off in.”  That could have set the tone for the whole day. 

We toured Cawdor Castle.  Now Shakespeare, as much as I love his work, was not terribly accurate when it comes to history.  For example, Macbeth was one of the better kings of Scotland.  He didn’t murder King Duncan.  And if he was “Thane of Cawdor,” it was a long time before Cawdor was built.  Just sayin’. 

Cawdor Castle had an actual drawbridge!!!  And a garden maze with a statue of a minotaur in the center. 

As we travelled through Inverness, the “Capital of the Highlands”, we saw a warning sign next to a road.  You know how you see signs that warn about children playing in area, or deer crossing, or “DEAF CHILD IN AREA”.  Well, this sign cautioned drivers to be extra careful because of… wait for it… ELDERLY PEOPLE. 

Then there was the seagull. 

As we walked past a sidewalk café in Inverness, we saw a very large seagull descending.  As he glided from the sky, he LAUGHED.  At least that’s how it sounded to us.  Then he landed on one of the café tables which was covered with food.  And he commenced to gobble it all down. 

I’m SURE he was laughing. 

We saw two missionaries from the Church out working and we stopped to talk with them.  They were from Idaho and Texas.  One had been in-country for only seven days.  We should have taken a picture with them, but we didn’t think about it at the time. 

I bought a Black Watch military tartan kilt and some other related supplies.  The man who sold the kilt was named Constantinos.  Yep, he was from Greece.  And he was fantastic, friendly, and very knowledgeable. 

Then for lunch, we stopped at a pizza place run by real Italians.  We bought two pieces of pizza and an “Italian milkshake”.  The pizza was terrible—tasteless.  We couldn’t even finish it.  And the “Italian milkshake”?  It turned out to be powder, blended with water and ice.  It was awful.  Worse than awful.  Well, that was a disappointment. 

In many places in Europe (and apparently Scotland), you have to pay to use the restrooms.  You need EXACT change, because the attendant doesn’t make change. 

But the seagull made up for it.  That bird redeemed all of Inverness for us. 

Then it was on to Culloden Moor and the site of the battle that ended the hopes of the Jacobites and changed Scotland forever.  We were only able to see it from the bus, but I HAVE BEEN TO CULLODEN!

As we drove along the shore of Loch Ness (and no, we didn’t see the monster), we saw a tourist attraction called Nessieland.  (You know, like Disneyland.)  It didn’t look like much, but there was a green statue of a plesiosaur-ish looking thing in front. 

We tried desperately to take photos of the loch as we drove past, but I doubt any of them turned out well.  We were a wee bit disappointed, but we shouldn’t have been.  Because our next stop was the ruins of Urquhart Castle… on the shores of Loch Ness. 

We were treated to beautiful views of the Loch (but still no Nessie).  We walked around the remains of the castle.  I climbed the highest remaining tower.  The view was breathtaking.  (And no, I was NOT panting after making the climb.  It wasn’t THAT type of breathtaking.)  We had glorious weather and were able to get some stunning pictures. 

As we drove over the Highland hills on our way back to the ship, we passed through several small, quaint villages.  One of the villages had its own zoo.  No kidding.  A zoo.  All of the animals were made of wood or plastic and sat in the front yard of a small house, but… 

We were looking for specimens of the “hairy coo”, a very shaggy cow from the Highlands.  We were informed that there were more of them in America than there were in Scotland.  At long last, after much searching, we spied one!  Of course, all we got to see was the animal’s backside. 

I finally found out what “single-malt” means with reference to whiskey.  You see, they take barley seeds, put them in water until they sprout, then dry them.  The dried, sprouted seeds are then used to make whiskey.  I have no idea how you get all that from the term “single-malt,” but at least I know what it refers to now.  I can now file that away as knowledge that I will never use (unless it’s in a book). 

One last note: as we entered downtown Inverness, our guide pointed out “The American Cultural Center.”  It turned out to be a McDonalds. 

And so, we say goodbye to Scotland and return to England.  When we dock in the morning, we will be in Newcastle. 

This morning, Cindy and I went into the village of Kirkwall for a short exploration on our own.  We visited the lovely cathedral with its magnificent stained-glass windows.  The interior gravestones are delightfully creepy with their depictions of bones.  We also visited the ruins of the Earl’s palace and the bishop’s palace.  These ancient stone bastions were not places of defense (there are no murder holes), just once-magnificent residences. 

We returned to the ship with just enough time to have some delicious English-style fish-and-chips before heading back out for our port adventure to Orkney’s Neolithic heartland. 

Once again, the rain disappeared before our tour.  The winds howled at 30-40 mph, but that didn’t bother me—it only added to the atmosphere of desolation.  We seem to keep getting perfect weather just for us.  (Our dinner table-mates went on the same adventure in the morning, and they got soaked!)  Our tour guide was excellent again.  We have been truly blessed. 

The Scots we’ve met have been, without exception, friendly and welcoming.  We also learned what Scotsmen wear underneath the kilt.  Did I mention the wind was blowing?  Our tour-guide, Andy, said, “Well, that answers that question.”

The stone circles of Stenness and Brodgar predate Stonehenge!  They are not as elaborate as Stonehenge, but they are much, much larger.  The sandstone here tends to break very nicely into slate-like slabs, so the standing stones are tall, thin, flat, and irregularly shaped.  One of them even had ancient Viking graffiti! 

We visited an active archeological dig.  The site was probably not a village, but rather an ancient temple or meeting place of some type.  The site has been active for only ten years and they are barely getting started.  It was very exciting. 

Then there was the Neolithic village of Skara Brae.  Unearthed by accident in the 18th century, the village is beautifully preserved.  The roofs are gone, of course, but everything else was made of stone.  All the buildings are connected with tunnels. 

We know so little about these people.  So many mysteries.  I take great comfort from knowing that we don’t know everything (as I’ve mentioned before).

The Orkney Islands were under Viking control for centuries and almost all the street and village names here are Viking names.  Folks around here are very proud of their Viking heritage.  Even the flag of the Orkneys is very similar to the Norwegian flag. 

This area was home to extremely important military installations during both world wars.  This area was the first to be bombed, and the first to shoot down a German combat aircraft. 

Tomorrow, Invergordon—Loch Ness and Culloden!

 

We cruised through the Hebrides today.  The islands seem like desolate rocks in the middle of the ocean, although most are topped with very green grass.  There a few villages visible, and some of the islands have sheep grazing on them.  We saw a couple of lighthouses.  Other than that, we just enjoyed the majestic beauty of these barren islands.  We did not put ashore as today is scheduled as a day at sea.  The waters are rough with whitecaps everywhere.  The ship is rolling and swaying.  It is all very relaxing. 

We had breakfast with Mickey Mouse, Minnie, and Pluto. 

We finally saw the new Spider-Man movie in one of the theatres aboard.  I highly recommend it. 

Cindy and I held our little sacrament meeting as well today.  Not having anything else to hand, we used Scottish shortbread. 

Then we saw “Tangled: The Musical”.  It was wonderful, as good as it could possibly have been.  And yes, I was bawling my eyes out at the end.  It was that good. 

Tonight, at dinner at the Animator’s Palate, we had a very special activity that I very much enjoyed.  I’m not going to spoil it in case you ever get the chance to do a Disney cruise, but… it was a lot of fun. 

And I ate duck.  And it was good.  I was NOT expecting that. 

And lobster tail.  Lots and lots of lobster. 

They treat us like royalty here or like the uber-rich.  Interestingly, I think most passengers here are very rich.  They go on Disney cruises every year.  Wow.  This is the vacation of a lifetime for us, and it is very unlikely that we will ever get to repeat it.  But I am so glad we did.  We are having such a wonderful time.  Together.  Just the two of us. 

Tomorrow, Kirkwall and Neolithic Orkney! 

 

 

We’re in SCOTLAND!!!

Must… remember… to… breathe… 

Everyone—and I do mean EVERYONE—is so nice here!  When we stepped off the ship, we were welcomed by an older gentleman in traditional Scottish attire.  Our tour guide, Kenny, and our coach (bus) driver, Sam (the owner of Sam’s Travel, giving one of his drivers the day off) were so knowledgeable and so helpful.  They went out of their way—way, way out of their way—to make our day magical.  Kenny (a former police officer) noticed that I was “a-hobblin’”, so he held his umbrella (it was drizzling) over my head as we walked and he answered my myriad of questions.  He called me “Utah” and made sure Cindy and I were well cared for. 

When we left the ship, rain was coming down.  It rained as we drove.  But when we got out of the coach, the rain slowed to a light drizzle or stopped altogether.  The effect was that the day was pleasantly cool and foggy, shrouding the highland hills in an atmosphere of mystery. 

I learned so much about the Battle of Bannockburn that I didn’t know before.  I LOVE to learn history, especially stories of courage and honor.  For example, I learned that an English knight, Sir Giles d’Argentan (one of the enemy), when he knew the battle was lost (even though the English severely outnumbered and were far better equipped than the Scots), saw to the king’s safety, then said, “I have never left the field of battle before the end, and I shall not do so now.”  He returned to the field, even though he knew the English would lose, and he would die.  That’s courage and honor.  Stories like that stir my blood. 

Stirling Castle was a dream-come-true.  Robert the Bruce razed the original, English fortress, but the Scots later rebuilt the castle—and then some.  So much to see.  So much history.  So much blood and heroism and honor. 

But the absolute best part happened just as we arrived at the dock.  Kenny, our tour guide, had played a CD for us on the way back.  It was a beautiful blend of bagpipes, strings, and occasionally voice.  So lovely.  So peaceful.  I commented on how sweet the music was.  As we left the coach, he popped the CD out of the player and gave it me.  I’m tearing up now just thinking of it. 

Tomorrow, the Hebrides.  We don’t get to go ashore, but the scenery from the ship should be gorgeous. 

Conwy Castle was constructed by Edward I (Edward “the Longshanks”) in the 13th century in Wales.  And it is AWESOME.  Today, it stands as a ruin, but it was so very, utterly cool.  (Did I mention it was freakishly, awesomely, cool?)  The roof (along with all the rest of the wood, such as the gates and floors) is gone.  Moss and leafy plants grow in the crevices between the stones.  Pigeons roost in the nooks and crannies.  But you can still walk along the top of the wide castle walls and climb to the tops of the towers.  (Cindy climbed one.  I climbed the same one and then the highest of the towers, and the view took my breath away—it literally made me gasp.  And no, I was NOT panting.) 

The castle is located on rocks at the edge of sea—it would have been very difficult to assail.  I looked out some of the many “murder holes” and imagined pouring boiling oil on the enemy (or on people who write drive-by-one-star reviews).  Or hurling rocks at them.  Or shooting arrows.  The steps going up to the towers were narrow and steep, but that was nothing compared to the tiny steps the kitchen staff had to use in the kitchen tower.  (Yes, you read that right—tower.)  There were various rooms built into the circular walls for the tower at various levels where the cooking was done.  And the servants had to climb up and down small, narrow stairs built into the walls of the tower.  Carrying trays or pots of hot food.  That must have taken real guts, I tell you—forget about the soldiers. 

After the castle, we walked around the town and shopped for a little bit.  I bought a beautiful close helm (used for jousting or mounted combat).  It’s going to be fun packing that in my suitcase! 

Conwy is a walled town.  The gate through which we left was so narrow that I doubt the bus had two inches of clearance on either side.  We applauded after the driver had successfully navigated it. 

We were treated to lunch in the Welsh village of Betws-y-Coed.  (Try say THAT three times fast.)  Cindy got her first taste of strawberries in clotted cream.  (She wasn’t that impressed.)  Then we shopped in the medieval village. 

But on the way back to the ship, we drove through beautiful countryside that included moors (where we were told of bog-snorkeling—which is just what it sounds like), rolling pasture lands filled with thousands of sheep, mountain roads so narrow two vehicles could barely pass one another, and the Snowdonia mountain range, where the Welsh believe King Arthur sleeps to be awakened when Wales truly needs him. 

We heard the tale of the Red Dragon, the White Dragon, Myrddn Emrys (Merlin), and Vortigern the Usurper.  (Interestingly, the guide temporarily forgot the name of Vortigern, and I was able to remind him.  Yes, I know the tale well…  I even did it WITHOUT being obnoxious, believe it or not.  Truly—I was not obnoxious.  Honest.  As Cindy is my witness.) 

Here’s something I found very interesting—in the UK, the police are required to post a sign saying that speed cameras may be in the area.  They may or may not have actual cameras, but regardless, they are required to WARN you.  Now if only the Utah Highway Patrol and the Springville police would do the same…  After all, it IS all about courtesy, right? 

I finally had a dinner onboard ship that didn’t involve beef.  No prime rib, no filet mignon, no ribeye steak.  The shrimp and scallop pasta was very good (minus the scallops, of course, which I requested be left out of mine).  It’s like having beef-and-broccoli without the broccoli—perfect! 

Tomorrow, Scotland!!!!

 

Day 5: Ireland

Green.  Green and beautiful.  That’s Ireland. 

Today, we took our first (and last) non-Disney-arranged port adventure.  The biggest difference between a Disney-arranged adventure and one you set up yourself is that if you don’t make it back to the ship on time, the ship WILL sail without you.  So, this was a bit nerve-wracking for both of us.  But none of the Disney-arranged adventures went to Cindy’s ancestral castle…

Cindy is descended from James Butler, the 9th Earl of Ormonde, and James Butler once resided in and owned Kilkenny Castle (in, you guessed it, Kilkenny).  So we HAD to go to the castle.  And we had a wonderful time. 

First, we traveled to Glendaloch (meaning, “glen of two lakes”), a glorious old ruin of a cathedral built in the Dark Ages and occupied for centuries before being abandoned.  The cathedral itself is just a shell of rock now.  The bell tower still stands intact, as does a chapel built much later.  However, a second chapel is barely a foundation now.  The kirkyard is filled with tombstones, some as late as the 19th century.  However, many of the stone markers are so eroded, there is no record left of the dead, except for a nameless stone.  I was saddened to think of these huge monuments, carved so long ago with so much care, perhaps even with love and devotion, meant to last forever, and now, forever mute. 

I was reminded that man may forget and time and weather erase even monuments of stone, but every soul is known to our loving Father in Heaven.  He does not forget us. 

Then we traveled through lush countryside—so many shades of green!  We came to Wicklow Gap and looked out upon the highest point on the Emerald Isle.  We gazed upon locations used in the movie “Braveheart”.  We drove through Hollywood, a tiny village, the namesake of the more famous town in California.  It even had the white letters of the “Hollywood” sign. 

Finally, we arrived in Kilkenny.  And Cindy got to see her castle.  It was much larger and grander than I thought it would be.  It was sold in 1967 by the Earl of Ormonde to the town for £50.  The town has restored the castle to a state reflective of the splendor of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.  (I kept thinking of “Downton Abbey” as we walked through the magnificent halls and rooms.)  Cindy was delighted. 

After the castle, we walked down to an old part of the town, down a sloping alley called “Butter Slip”, to an ancient pub, Kyteler’s.  The pub has been there since the 14th century!  The original owner, a “merry widow” who buried four husbands, was condemned as a witch.  She escaped punishment, but four of her friends did not.  This lovely place has a bronze statue of a witch in one of the front rooms. 

Cindy and I split an order of “fish-and-chips with peas”.  The fish was delicious (with tons of malt vinegar), and the “peas” turned out to be pea soup with whole peas in it.  It was yummy as well. 

We had two cab drivers and one bus driver/tour guide.  All three turned out to be quite knowledgeable… and colorful.  You might describe them as “rough around the edges”.  We could hardly understand the final driver, but he was using, shall we say, colorful language.  Then and the end of our ride, he said, “Pardon my French, but I wouldn’t have the balls to…”  “Balls.”  After everything else, he apologized for “balls”.  It was hilarious! 

For dinner tonight in the Animator’s Palate, we were treated to a magical Disney show that played out all around us.  We were not expecting it, so it was, as they say in England, “a lovely surprise.”  You see, everything is “lovely” around here.  Also, folks around here invent new adjectives by simply adding “-y” to the end of words.  A speed bump was described as an “uppy-downy ramp.”  Something circular might be described as “roundy”. 

All in all, today was a lovely, toury, castley, uppy-downy, twisty-turny (wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey) day! 

On to Liverpool, Conwy Castle, and northern Wales! 

A day at sea.  The ship is rocking and rolling.  Did I mention there’s a Beatles tribute band aboard?  And We’re going to Liverpool in a few days…  Our cabin is in the aft of the ship on the starboard side (listen to me being all nautical and everything), so we really feel the movement of the ship.  The view from our porthole is breathtaking. 

And we saw dolphins! 

We saw an original musical, “Twice Enchanted,” which tells the story of Cinderella and her Prince after they get married… or did they?  It was delightful, well-acted, gloriously sung, and the dancers didn’t miss a step, even with the ship bouncing about in the North Sea.  The special effects were top-notch.  The songs were fantastic.  I was very impressed.  I can’t wait to see “Tangled.”  That’s right!  A musical stage play of “Tangled”…  (My daughter says she hates my guts.)  <evil grin> <evil chuckle> (That’s right, sweetie!  Tangled!) 

We saw Olaf, Anna, and Elsa today as well…  They looked perfect, although Olaf seemed a bit tall… 

We got up late, went to breakfast, returned to our cabin, and slept most of the day.  (Well, I slept.  Cindy read a book.)  It was very restful. 

Tonight, was formal night for dinner with the Captain’s reception.  Captain Andy is from Scotland, and his accent makes me green (or perhaps tartan) with envy.  We dined at Lumiere’s.  I LOVE French cuisine.  (Except snails.  No thank you.)  I’ve had some version of crème brulè at every dinner.  (And I’m not complaining at all.)  Cindy wore her new semi-formal blue gown tonight.  It’s the first time she has worn it in public, and she was stunning!  The dress is a birthday present—an original and exclusive design crafted by my friend, Laurie Hayward from the Choir.  My bonnie Cindy looks like an elegant Disney princess. 

I feel all charged up for Ireland tomorrow!!!

A murder of crows circled the ancient standing stones, while lowering, gray skies threatened rain.  In the distance, barrow mounds housing the bones of ancient pagan kings and their treasures, long ago crumbled to dust, lay scattered across windswept Salisbury Plain.  The stones themselves, standing as mute sentinels—or fallen, but still on duty—guarding the mysteries and arcane secrets of the builders now dead for millennia. 

No one knows why Stonehenge was built, though theories, from the plausible to the ridiculous, abound.  I will not list them here.  I merely wish to offer my own impressions. 

It was the crows that really moved me.  We were not allowed to touch the stones or get too near them for fear of disturbing the as-yet untouched archeological treasures still hidden beneath ground.  But the crows… they flew around the monument, perching on the silent sentinels of the past.  The birds did not come to feed—there was nothing for them to eat.  They flew around the stones or marched around the perimeter.  Watching.  Observing. 

Guarding. 

And like the stones themselves, the murder of crows was absolutely and eerily silent. 

In other words, it was sooooo cool. 

We really lucked out on today’s tour, because we had the absolute best tour guide, Sue, and a very knowledgeable bus driver.  They took us places not on the itinerary and showed us many things we did not expect to see.  We drove through tiny English villages, rolling, hedge-rowed countryside (right out of Tolkien’s paintings of the Shire).  We saw sheep, cows, and pigs.  We were informed that pigs are rarely out and visible this time of year.  (“So that is a lovely treat.”)  It was first real rain in a long time, and we were told that the first harvest of wheat had come early.  The fields were all white and ready to harvest… 

We drove down country roads where the trees and hedges grew right up to the edge of the road, and the trees and hedges were trimmed to form a very tight tunnel, in places blocking out the sun entirely.  We passed public houses, manor houses, houses with thatched roofs (we learned it’s illegal to change from a thatched roof to an un-thatched roof and that thatchers have to study and apprentice for years to learn their valuable trade), farmhouses, country inns, and castles.  We learned that the land in that area is made up primarily of chalk and flint, and it is best for farming hay.  Flint stones are incorporated visibly into the walls of many of the houses. 

Sadly, just after our bus (“coach”) arrived at Stonehenge, one of the men on the bus suffered a heart-attack or stroke.  The emergency response was immediate, and he was whisked off a hospital in Salisbury.  The last we heard was that he was sitting up, responsive, and talking.  However, we don’t have any other details. 

Many of the towns we passed through had names that ended in “puddle.”  Our guide told us that the word was originally “piddle” (meaning just exactly what you might think it would mean), but most residents thought it unseemly to have a village name that referred to urination.  So they changed “piddle” to “puddle.”  However, there is one village that is quite proud of the name Tinkleton. 

Our wait-staff is incredible.  I told the drink steward that I would appreciate a Sprite pretty much as soon as I arrive.  It’s there within a minute.  The food is so good.  And the entertainment?  We attended our first show in the theatre tonight, and the performances were Broadway-quality—even though the ship is swaying and rocking.  A lot.  I haven’t felt sick at all, but I haven’t gotten my sea-legs yet.  I stumble…

Every night when we return to our cabin, the turn-down service includes an arrangement of a blanket, towels, and chocolates into a fanciful animal.  Tonight, it was manta ray.  Very cool. 

Tomorrow, we spend the entire day at sea.  It will be glorious! 

Well, today, we unexpectedly found ourselves back on U.S. soil.  I mean, it wasn’t completely unexpected, given our choices, but we didn’t quite understand the consequences of those choices. 

You see, Cindy and I went to the Normandy American World War II Cemetery and Memorial—and that is officially U.S. soil in Normandy in France.  That sacred ground was given to the United States as a in honor of the nearly 10,000 men and 4 women who gave their lives during the Battle of Normandy (including the D-Day invasion).  It was a somber experience, seeing all those crosses and Star of David tombstones.  So many gave their lives to defeat Adolph Hitler and his horrific dream of national socialism. 

It was also sobering to realize that we have forgotten the lessons of the past, because so many are embracing socialism in our country today.  We are embracing the idea that the state gives us our rights, that the state should care for us from cradle to grave, that the state should decide who lives and who dies, who deserves compassion and resources, what we can and cannot say, what we can and cannot think.  We have forgotten the lessons of the past and are gleefully teetering down the stony slope that has succeeded exactly zero times. 

Our rights come from God, and compassion should come from the heart, not the barrel of a gun or the pen of a bureaucrat. 

We also got a chance to go to the site of the British component of the D-Day invasion.  Did you know that the British BUILT an artificial harbor so they could bring in large ships and supply the invasion forces?  I didn’t.  It was astonishing to the see the technology invented by the British forces to accomplish this.  Including floating bridges where the trucks (lorries) drove out to the ships, off-loaded the cargo, and drove back to shore.  It was so cool.  Winston Churchill essentially said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Quit arguing about how it is to be done.  Just do it.” 

We also visited Pointe du Hoc and saw the ruins of the German gun emplacements.  We learned the story of the heroic American Rangers who captured and held the Pointe for many days as their own numbers were slowly worn down to almost nothing, guarding the American flank against the German garrison in a nearby village.  I descended into the ruins of a German bunker where the Rangers held out against overwhelming odds. 

(Just in case you were wondering, I also climbed back out…) 

And as we traveled along the Normandy countryside, we saw a memorial pillar set up in a small village, and at the top of the pillar was a bronze chicken.  That’s right—a chicken.  I have no idea why.  Neither did our guide.  All I know is that it looked like a war memorial with a chicken on the top.  Hey, perhaps, the builders were inspired by Disney’s Valiant.  (Look it up.  Okay, it wasn’t about a chicken, but it was about a WWII pigeon…)  Or perhaps, Chicken Run. 

We also had lunch at a delightful country farmhouse.  While there, I saw a Russian sage bush swarming with bumblebees busily going about their pollenating duties.  I have never seen so many bumblebees in one place. 

We also saw many FRENCH cows.  I remarked that they were UNLIKELY to end up overcooked. 

At dinner (in the delightful Animator’s Palate back aboard the ship), we finally met our regular dinner party.  Everybody (except for Cindy and I) has been on MULTIPLE Disney cruises.  One couple had been on sixteen!  And two ladies were from Liverpool (England), and they were going with us on a cruise around their native land.  (At lunch, we also met a couple who had been on THIRTY-SIX Disney cruises, and had been married 36 years.  I’m sensing a theme here…) 

Cindy and I are having the time of our lives, and we are just getting started! 

Tomorrow, Stonehenge!!!  (Yes, Stone-freaking-henge!)

Day 1: DOVER!!!!

We’re on our way to Dover!  (Did you catch the Disney reference?  We’re merrily, merrily, merrily…)

Cindy and I are on a bus, traveling through the English countryside.  I’ve never been to the British Isles, and neither has my bonnie bride.  And we’re going on a cruise!  Not just a cruise—a Disney cruise!  For us, this is the vacation of a lifetime.

We had to get up at 4:00 AM this morning. No, make that yesterday morning.  Our flight was at 10:00 AM, but we were told to be at the airport by 6:00 since it was an international flight.  This, of course, turned out to be EXCESSIVELY early.  But better safe than…. you know.

I have to say, Delta is the absolute best.  Even though we were NOT traveling with the Choir, Delta treated us like royalty (or at least as much as is possible in economy class), even if we did have to sit on the very BACK row on both segments of our flight.

When we boarded our bus at London Heathrow Airport, we were informed that there wasn’t much to see on the way to Dover—except grass.  Maybe so, but it’s BRITISH grass.  There were cows too.  BRITISH cows.  (Which means they will probably end up overcooked at some point.)  But we just saw a CASTLE!!!

And we just saw the white cliffs of Dover.  So freakin’ cool.

We are now at the port of Dover, waiting to board the Disney Magic (our ship).  And Minnie Mouse just arrived!!!  That means WE have arrived!!!  (…even if we are still waiting to board the ship.)

Can you tell I’m geeking out?

Is it just that it’s Disney, or is it the accents?  Everybody is so polite.  I think it’s got something to do with the accent, because even at the airport, the border control personnel were very friendly.  Then there was the rest stop on the way to Dover—even the clerk in the convenience store made us feel welcome.  Definitely the accent.  Maybe when I get home, I’ll pull a Gwyneth Paltrow and affect an accent to make everybody think I’m really nice (or snotty or just plain weird).

We’re now aboard and it is our first morning.

So many nationalities among the cast and crew!  We have so far been served by folks from Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Serbia, and of course, Great Britain.  So, we’re being treated to accents from around the world, and we’re loving it.

We dined at Palo’s last night.  Now, MOST of the food here is free, but there is a $30/person extra charge to dine at Palo’s.  We weren’t all that excited about paying extra for an Italian restaurant.  (I mean, my wife’s lasagna is to die for.)  But it was incredible.  Lots of extras.  Well worth the premium charge.  But our server!  He was from the Philippines and he was so attentive.  When he found out we were celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary, he decorated a plate will chocolate and red and yellow jellies, spelling out, “Happy Anniversary,” of course.  He also added red hearts, framed in chocolate, and a chocolate chain of red and yellow “jewels.”  Then he brought us a third desert!  Because he was from Manilla and I had spent five years of my childhood at Clark AFB, including a couple of weeks in Manilla with a dear native family while my parents travelled about the orient, we had an immediate connection.  When he learned we were from Utah, he associated us with the Church and missionaries.  After dinner, he said, “I know you won’t be wanting coffee.”

The stateroom is really quite luxurious.  The bathrooms are tiny, but well-designed.  The bed was VERY comfortable.

Needless to say, I am impressed.

We had our mandatory lifeboat training.  Our gathering location was in a restaurant called “The Animator’s Palate”.  All the tables were covered up, but the place looks really cool.  I can’t wait to try it out!  We met a family from Canada.  This was their SIXTH Disney cruise.  With kids.  (Must be really well off…)  They were quite nice.  They said they had also cruised with another popular cruise line (which will remain nameless), but it doesn’t compare to Disney—at least according to them.  We also met a man travelling alone.  I was astonished.  Imagine travelling alone on a Disney cruise!  As it turns out, though, he is aboard on business to help with the architectural lighting.

As we sat out on the aft deck of Deck 10, waiting to leave port, some massive seagulls flew so close and so low that their wingtips nearly brushed the head of a lady at the railing (less than a dozen feet from us).  I managed to get one (actually, SEVERAL) shots of the lady (in an attempt to capture the seagull and give the viewer perspective of its proximity and size).  Only one shot came close.  It was a maybe-you-had-to-have-been-there moment.

So far, the only disappointment is that you must pay for the internet aboard ship, and it IS expensive.  So, I won’t be posting any pictures as we go.  (I’ll post them when we get back.)

Next up, Le Havre, France!

Sunday morning was really rough.  Not because it was Mother’s Day.  I really enjoy the chance to show my wife and my mother a little extra recognition and appreciation.  (I mean, seriously, I’ll use any excuse to give presents.)  No, it was rough for purely physical and personal reasons.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir had just finished a week of recording sessions, and we were exhausted.  We recorded Tuesday through Friday nights.  Each time I go to Choir, it is my habit to leave early from work, go to the Lion House Pantry, eat dinner, and write (e.g., work on my current novel).  This is my “sacred writing time,” and I try very hard to let nothing interfere with this.  However, leaving early means that I have to finish my work-day at home, late at night.  It makes for an exhausting week.

We finished our recording sessions on Friday night, and this allowed me to go to the Renaissance Festival and Fantasy Faire up in Marriott-Slaterville on Saturday.  I am teaching my medieval weapons class each Saturday this month (plus Memorial Day).  Yes, I know I VOLUNTEERED for this madness, but then, I can never resist an opportunity to show off my arsenal, talk weapons, and sell and sign books.

The bottom line is that I was plum-tuckered-out on Sunday (Mother’s Day), and I still had to do the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast that morning.  Now, all that singing, recording, weapons-teaching, and book-signing equates to a LOT of standing.  I have a bum knee, and I will have to have it replaced (AFTER I’m done with the Choir in three years and not before, thank you very much).  So, I was taking my prescribed pain meds Tuesday through Saturday.  The problem is that I don’t LIKE taking the meds, because when they wear off, they make me very sick.  So at least once a week, I don’t take any meds to give my body a break, to reset, as it were.  Usually, I do this on Friday night.  But we were recording on Friday night, so Friday wasn’t a viable option.

So, Sunday arrived, and I decided to forgo my heavier meds that morning.  “I can do this,” I thought.  “Yes, I have to go home and bake a German chocolate cake (my wife’s favorite) and make dinner for nine, but I can do this!”

Well, about the time we got to the break between the run-through rehearsal and the actual broadcast, I was hurting pretty badly.  And I was sick.  I mean, I was ready to puke.  (This is a side-effect of the medicine wearing off.)  I didn’t have time to hobble down to the wardrobe room, grab my wallet, stumble to the vending machines in the maintenance break room, purchase a soda from the vending machine, consume it, burp violently (hey, gotta have that detail in here) to settle my stomach, lurch back to the wardrobe room to replace my wallet, then clamber in a most ungainly fashion up the stairs to the Choir loft before the broadcast.  So, I was stuck.  In fact, I was sitting outside the Tabernacle, eyeing one of the bushes as a likely spot to empty the contents of my stomach, fertilize the lucky shrubbery, and gross-out audience members.  I mean, nothing invites the Spirit like watching a member of the Choir lose their—well, I actually hadn’t eaten anything, but…

At that moment, as I was about to bestow upon the bush the gift of stomach acid, one of the Temple Square missionaries, an older sister, walked up to me and handed me a bag of chocolate chip cookies.

She told me it was to thank me for helping her find an old friend in the Choir the week before.  But to me, she was an answer to an unspoken prayer.  Help me, Father, to get through this.  And my regular readers will know my mantra for my service in the Choir—Not for my glory, but for Thy glory.  And so, my Heavenly Father sent me chocolate chip cookies through this kind woman.  I ate two, and they settled my stomach perfectly.  (I shared the rest with some of the other men in the Choir.)

That random (or perhaps, not-so-random) act of kindness saved me that morning.  And I am grateful.  Very, very grateful.

I don’t ask the Lord to make my service easy, I only ask Him to make it possible.  And He does.  Besides, with God, nothing is impossible.

So, find opportunities to bestow random acts of kindness.  Smile at a stranger.  It costs you nothing (in most cities—although, in some cities I’ve visited, it might be dangerous).  Say hello.  Call a friend.  Write an email.  Give your mother a flower.  Tell your wife, your son, your daughter, your brother, your sister, your friend that you love them.  Mow a neighbor’s lawn.  Do something nice and unexpected with no thought of reward.

You may save someone.

And you won’t do your own soul any harm, either.

They may not be just chocolate chip cookies—they just might be a miracle, an answer to prayer.

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