VT Cross with black ribbonApril 16, 2007. A cold Monday morning in a sleepy town that would change the world. I slept in, waking up to find that the world of the night before was nothing like the world of now. A gunman on campus. People injured and dead. Lots of rumors but no one knew anything for sure. What was supposed to be the uneventful last few weeks of my senior year took our quiet corner of southwest Virginia and made it the focus of the world. In many ways, it feels like yesterday. In other ways, it feels like it was an eternity ago.

What we learned that day is that life is fleeting. Evil is all around us and comes when we least expect it. We are like flowers: here one day and gone the next. But for those who know Christ, we can have hope even in the face of unspeakable evil. How appropriate that the 10th anniversary of such a dark day falls on the day when we celebrate the ultimate victory over evil. Jesus Christ willingly laid his life down on the cross to pay the debt that you and I owed but could never pay. A good man payed the debt of evil people. But the story doesn’t end on the cross. The real story is the empty grave on Easter morning. God raised Jesus to life, forever ending the curse of sin for those who know him, and making it so that we can be right with God, both now and for all eternity. Just like Jesus rose, we too will rise.

I can’t think of a more appropriate thing to celebrate on this anniversary. This song is both a powerful reminder of what Easter is all about – and was the song that became our theme in those dark days where we discovered what the new normal would be for us at Virginia Tech.

By Chris, 15. April 2017, 20:46 o'clock
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Current 1979 kitchen

A homeowner job, 19 years after the house was built that slightly expanded and opened up the kitchen but with poor workmanship

My kitchen needs help. It was a homeowner job in 1979. It was poorly installed – no level, maybe not even a tape measure. The cabinets are wearing out. It’s time for something new. What’s wrong? I have three sets of hanging cabinets, none of which are hung at the same level. One has been repaired several times to keep it from falling off the wall. Most of the hinges are replaced or worn out. The cabinets leave sawdust on the contents inside. I’ve had to repair several of the drawers. The layout isn’t great. The finish on the edges is worn out. The floor is wearing out and there’s a problem with the insulation that makes one of the base cabinets double as extra fridge space in the winter. In short, it’s time for this kitchen to move on and a new one to take its place.

I have been eyeing Ikea kitchens for several years. I did a comparison with some of the brands carried by Home Depot. Even with a 20% off promo there, Ikea is roughly the same price before adding a lighting package and with more expensive cabinet internals. If I’m able to take advantage of Ikea’s next kitchen sale, I should be able to come out far ahead if I do my own cabinet assembly and installation.

Tonight, I signed up for Ikea’s in home measuring service with design consultation for $249, which I will get back if I purchase an Ikea kitchen by August 1. They will be out in a little over a week to measure and review my designs. I have two basic concepts in mind at this point: one to get my first appliance choices to work and one to maximize counter space. All designs will have larger hanging cabinets, so I should end up with more space than I currently have.

I tried to sign up for the Ikea measuring service over the phone. I couldn’t get a phone number for my local Ikea, so I tried to call the “order your kitchen here” line at 7:30pm today (Friday). Their site said they were open until 8pm eastern. I got a recording telling me that I was calling after business hours. Ikea fail #1.

Next, I called the phone number listed for one of my local stores. It was an 800 number, so I wasn’t expecting it to ring the store. I was able to get through to their central kitchen department, who told me I’d need to arrange measuring through a local store. They transferred me “to my store” supposedly by zip code. Erica was incredibly helpful, but it turns out that she’s in the Seattle store. I was expecting to get assigned to the Woodbridge, VA store – a difference of only 2786 miles! Ikea makes it incredibly difficult even for associates to find contact information for another store. Erica was able to get my store on the line by trying to check stock levels. She worked with me for over 30 minutes and got me to the right person – if you need a kitchen and you’re near Seattle, definitely ask for Erica at Ikea. She’s a rock star! Ikea win #1.

My store called me about 10 minutes after Erica passed off my contact information – she didn’t transfer me directly because she’s had issues Ikea’s phone system dropping calls instead of transferring them. I started to go through the information with my store over the phone, but they strongly preferred my signature on the paperwork, so I ended up coming in. I was only 10 minutes away from their store at that point because I jumped in the car when it became clear that it was going to be hard to set up measuring over the phone – we’ll call the whole phone trouble Ikea fail #2.

In the store, the associates that helped me were pretty knowledgeable, but the one who helped me the most wasn’t permitted to work past formal closing, so she had to leave a few minutes before 9 – we’ll call Ikea’s rigid scheduling system that the associates in kitchen all agreed made no sense Ikea fail #3. The next associate to help me sent me to one of their model kitchens and indicated I should poke around for a bit (the store was already closed at this point). Shortly after, I was kicked out for store closing, which was either a failure of telling me I could look when I couldn’t or a failure through kicking me out when I could have had a few more minutes – I was almost done! Ikea fail #4.

The final troubles of the evening weren’t directly related to the kitchen but are still worth noting. I picked up a clearance Christmas wreath on the way out. It was marked $9.99, originally $24.99. I had to wait about 15 minutes to check out with my one item (no express lanes anymore). It rang up as $24.99. It took a manager about 10 minutes to correct the price. I wouldn’t have bought it at either price if I had known it would add 25 minutes to my trip. I was thirsty so intended to buy a frozen drink at their still open snack bar, however the frozen drink machines turn themselves off at “store closing”, which was now 30 minutes ago so they weren’t very frozen. I decided to settle for the water fountain. Unfortunately the bathrooms and the water fountains had already been closed off and secured for the night. Ikea was still quite busy at closing – seems they should be open later or at least have more customer friendly closing policies! I will be nice and not add to Ikea’s score since these issues weren’t directly related to the kitchen.

What did I learn?

  • Be prepared – you will get better help if you have an idea of what you want (success, but even more than I realized)
  • Drawers are more expensive, but much easier to fully utilize and are one of Ikea’s strongest attributes – use as many as you can
  • Avoid Ikea near closing time. Everything kitchen takes longer than you think. Make sure you arrive at least two hours before closing for anything but the most basic pick up

Final score for today’s trip: 4 fails and 1 win. Hopefully Ikea will do better in the future!

By Chris, 30. December 2016, 23:55 o'clock
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Immanuel God With Us album coverHere’s my 2016 update to the Christmas music post. Christmas music is meant to be sung with other people, so you’ll notice that many of these albums are live recordings.

McLean Worship: Immanuel God with Us
The freshman release from my church’s worship leaders. A combination of new songs and old favorites. I was part of 15 concerts that featured some of the songs from this release during this year’s Christmas Village. I particularly like the original Son of Light.

Chris Tomlin’s Adore: Christmas Songs Of Worship (Live)
The title track He Shall Reign Forevermore is the best one on the album and I think it’s going to be a classic. It’s a reworking of the old carol In the Bleak Midwinter with a little bit of Handel’s Messiah in it. The whole album is great and is a great follow up to his earlier Christmas album.

Hillsong’s We Have a Savior
Another great album that I was a few years late to the party on. Some great new songs and good renditions of old favorites. I like the opening rendition of O Come Let Us Adore Him and the title track of We Have A Savior. Another good new one is Our King Has Come.

Honorable mentions:

Paul Baloche’s Christmas Worship and Christmas Worship [Vol 2]
Good albums that take Christmas carols and blend them with better known worship songs. Check out Angels From the Realms of Glory / Emmanuel.

Chris Tomlin’s Glory In The Highest: Christmas Songs Of Worship
A couple of years old, but still frequently in my playlists. Particular favorites include Joy to the World and O Come All Ye Faithful.

Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration
Handel’s Messiah as it would have been written and performed by an early 90s gospel choir. The whole album is interesting, but especially great is the Hallelujah Chorus.

Point of Grace’s A Christmas Story
Released over 15 years ago, this album is a Christmas classic to me. Great arrangements. Check out O Holy Night and When Love Came Down.

Hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

By Chris, 24. December 2016, 22:44 o'clock
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Porter AirlinesPorter Airlines,

I was a passenger scheduled for your Friday, 25 March flight from Mont Tremblant at 9:05am, ultimately landing in Washington, DC at 3:40pm. Our flight from Mont Tremblant didn’t leave until after 3pm. Despite reassurances from the airline at 8am that the flight would leave as scheduled despite light snow, our flight was repeatedly delayed until it was ultimately cancelled. Since Mont Tremblant requires visual landings and snow was forecast for most of the day, Porter should have planned for a delay, alerted passengers, and prepared a contingency plan.

Mont Tremblant airport is about a two hour drive from the Montreal airport. With the forecast, Porter should have dispatched a bus to Mont Tremblant to take us to the better equipped Montreal airport. All the Porter passengers were flying to Montreal, even though many of us were continuing on to other destinations. Even if the nearest available charter bus had to come from Montreal, Porter could have easily had a bus to Montreal by 9:30am if they had begun a contingency plan at 7am. Passengers would have been in Montreal before noon and many would have made their connections. Other passengers were originally supposed to fly out Thursday and had their replacement Friday morning flight cancelled as well. Since there had been Thursday problems resulting in cancelled flights as well, Porter should have been more prepared for Friday problems since the forecast was largely the same as Thursday.

I tried to call the reservation center (an international call for me), but was disconnected after 33 minutes without speaking to anyone. I figured they might know something and couldn’t hide on the other side of security, like the gate agents appeared to be doing. It doesn’t appear to be Porter’s fault I was disconnected, but the call will still cost me about $7 for which I got nothing but hold music.

Had we been passengers during peak ski season when flights were fuller, I’m sure Porter would have sent a bus or added a flight. Instead, we were rebooked on the afternoon flight which was scheduled for 2:20pm and was later delayed (the forecast was for snow and ice most of the afternoon). All passengers could be rebooked to Montreal, but my understanding from talking to other passengers is not everyone headed to Toronto was able to get a Porter flight Friday. Frustrating when the roads were clear and we could have been driven all the way to Toronto in less time than it finally took is to get to Montreal. I got more helpful information from Genevieve, part of the security staff, than anyone from Porter – it seemed the gate staff was hiding from customers!

In my case, Toronto wasn’t our final destination. We were flying to Washington, DC, which has limited service from Porter. We left Tremblant after our flight to Washington had already departed Toronto, so we clearly missed this connection. The next flight to Washington wasn’t until Saturday afternoon. However, of the three of us travelling together, only one was rebooked on that flight. The other two of us were booked on a Sunday flight. We did make it to Toronto Friday night, but we were unable to get any help from the Montreal gate staff, who knew nothing and was also rude to us.

In Toronto, agent Scott did a good job of taking care of us. He had hotel vouchers ready for us shortly after landing at the great Fairmont Royal York hotel. The 1929 hotel is a sight to see by itself with comfortable rooms and a great location. Scott also helped us figure out how to get our dinner and breakfast reimbursed and had transportation to the hotel arranged as well. While not able to solve all our problems, he was able to help us work through several alternate arrangements and got two of us on standby for the Saturday flight.

My alternate plan was to fly to Newark at 8:55am if I was still on the standby list in the morning. From there, I’d rent a car and drive the three hours to Washington-Dulles. I even had made a car reservation. Before turning in Friday night, I checked and saw that our reservations now showed a 26 March departure with no indication of standby status. I went ahead and checked in. The call center was closed, so I set my alarm for 6am when they opened and called to confirm as soon as the call center opened.

Just after 6am, I called the reservation center. I gave my information and talked to a lady who appeared to be very helpful. I explained the situation and asked her for an update on our standby status. She confirmed multiple times that we had tickets and even though we didn’t have seat assignments, we would get them at the airport and definitely had seats. I specifically asked more than once if we were standby and the answer was no. Reassured, I went back to sleep instead of going to the airport. Later we had breakfast and headed back to Billy Bishop airport early to make sure we got our meal reimbursements and seats resolved.

At the airport, we checked in to discover we were still on standby despite our earlier reassurances to the contrary. We worked with Melinda, who is a rock star and did everything in her power to resolve the situation – she should win the customer service representative of the year award hands down. She made some calls and was able to get me on the flight. However, our third traveler was unable to get onboard and had to take a car service to Toronto Pearson airport to catch his alternate arrangements, which he barely made and thankfully hadn’t cancelled. We were prepared with alternatives, although not as good as being on the flight, but the bad information we received from the call center made it hard to use them. The two of us on standby did receive $200 vouchers good for six months, but when one of us didn’t even fly home on Porter, that’s not a great substitute for the contracted service.

Being a holiday weekend where I had family in from out of town that was staying at my house, I was anxious to get home. Planning to be home two days before the holiday should have been plenty of time to get home, but the updated plans Porter provided wouldn’t have had me home until the afternoon on the holiday. Porter could have put me on another airline or covered a one way car rental from a different US city, but the only options we were offered were flights on different days. Not a good solution when I’m the host for the holiday lunch and my sister who I only get to see once or twice a year is visiting for the weekend. After ten days away from home, we were all ready to be back too.

Our Porter experience also included a repeatedly delayed and eventually diverted flight at the start of the trip. Our flight was delayed over two hours, circled waiting to land at Billy Bishop for longer than the scheduled flying time, and eventually diverted to Toronto-Pearson due to rain and fog. We were bussed back to Billy Bishop airport and then put on a flight on to Montreal. For our trouble, we received a $100 voucher good for three months, but it seems like Porter could have had better contingency plans of landing at Pearson sooner, since I believe Billy Bishop requires visual landings and Pearson doesn’t. Also, Porter had five planes on the ground at Pearson so it seems like we could have been rescheduled from there instead of being bussed to Billy Bishop and having to wait for the weather to clear before we could continue on.

We almost drove for this trip instead of flying. Flying was roughly double the price but we decided to go for it to have an extra day at our destinations. Our route would have been 24 hours of round-trip driving in total. Surprisingly, each of the three segments we flew (Washington-Montreal, Montreal-Tremblant, and Tremblant-Washington) would have been faster to drive when including time required to arrive at the airport before the originally scheduled departure. That’s a terrible record for an airline!

Your selling pitch seems to largely be convenience, but on this trip, it was anything but. Your communication needs help. Your operation plans need even more help. You have some great features including the lounge at Billy Bishop, your onboard experience, and your staff at Billy Bishop, but I have never had so much trouble traveling, even as a frequent traveler for both business and pleasure, domestically and internationally. When driving is faster, flying is a tough sell!

I stand by my recommendation: don’t #FlyPorter.

By Chris, 27. March 2016, 20:34 o'clock
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Adore: Christmas Songs of WorshipEvery few years, I like to post some of my favorite music for a specific occasion. This year, it’s Christmas. Christmas music is meant to be sung with other people, so you’ll notice that many of these albums are live recordings.

Chris Tomlin’s Adore: Christmas Songs Of Worship (Live)
The title track He Shall Reign Forevermore is the best one on the album and I think it’s going to be a classic. It’s a reworking of the old carol In the Bleak Midwinter with a little bit of Handel’s Messiah in it. The whole album is great and is a great follow up to his earlier Christmas album.

Hillsong’s We Have a Savior
Another great album that I was a few years late to the party on. Some great new songs and good renditions of old favorites. I like the opening rendition of O Come Let Us Adore Him and the title track of We Have A Savior. Another good new one is Our King Has Come.

Chris Tomlin’s Glory In The Highest: Christmas Songs Of Worship
A couple of years old, but still frequently in my playlists. Particular favorites include Joy to the World and O Come All Ye Faithful.

 

Honorable mentions:

Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration
Handel’s Messiah as it would have been written and performed by an early 90s gospel choir. The whole album is interesting, but especially great is the Hallelujah Chorus.

Paul Baloche’s Christmas Worship and Christmas Worship [Vol 2]
Good albums that take Christmas carols and blend them with better known worship songs. Check out Angels From the Realms of Glory / Emmanuel.

Point of Grace’s A Christmas Story
Released over 15 years ago, this album is a Christmas classic to me. Great arrangements. Check out O Holy Night and When Love Came Down.

Hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

By Chris, 25. December 2015, 12:35 o'clock
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A family snow day tradition is to bake bread. I barely eat bread anymore, but a snow day is a snow day. One of the things I always wanted to try was making baguettes. Well, I came across two baguette recipes this week and then got a snow day. Must be a sign!

I mainly followed Farm Girl Fare’s recipe, but I did the flour more like America’s Test Kitchen. Here’s my recipe:

Four Hour Baguettes
3 cups all-purpose flour (you may need a little more) – I recommend King Arthur Flour
¼ cup whole wheat flour, sifted and anything that stays in the sieve discarded – to better simulate the texture of French flour – I used King Arthur 100% white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast or active dry yeast
1½ cups (12 ounces) tepid water (20°C)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 cup ice cubes (for making steam in the oven)

Add flour to large mixing bowl. If using active dry yeast, add to water and set aside for 10 minutes. If using instant, mix into flour. Add water, mixing with rubber spatula until the flour is combined and a chunky dough is formed. Cover with a damp dish towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle salt over dough. Knead dough by hand for 10-12 min or use a KitchenAid with the dough hook on speed 2 for 8-10 minutes. Finish with several kneads by hand. Place in a tightly closing large plastic container and set aside for 45 minutes to ferment.

From here on, I followed Farm Girl Fare’s recipe exactly. Took me just about four hours from measuring ingredients to bread on the counter. Perfect with soup or some European butter. I also sliced some thin and made mini open face sandwiches with bread, sharp cheese, chicken, and a drizzle of rosemary olive oil.

(null)

By Chris, 21. February 2015, 18:49 o'clock
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A lot has happened since I last posted over two years ago. Even more has happened since January 2009, when I last regularly posted.

In that time I have:

  • Finished up my time as a college minister and transitioned into new ministry roles surrounding discipleship, prayer, and outreach to people in need
  • Relearned Spanish
  • Visited 14 countries for the first time
  • Visited 8 states for at least a day
  • Managed more than $2.1 million of commercial construction
  • Built a closet to turn my 3 bedroom house into a 4 bedroom
  • Reconnected with old friends, made new friends, and seen friends move on
  • Become a dog owner

All I can say is that despite these highlights, it has been a roller coaster of time. I’m more convinced than ever that God is not safe, but He is good. When you let go and let God, you never know where you’ll end up.

By Chris, 15. February 2015, 23:13 o'clock
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Picture of pieThis recipe was originally found by my grandmother in I believe an ad for cool whip and pudding. I have taken the original recipe and updated it to use fewer artificial ingredients.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 pie crust (I recommend graham cracker crust that contains no hydrogenated oils)
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream*
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar*
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 2 cups (16 oz) pumpkin puree
  • 2 packages (4 serving size) vanilla instant pudding
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
* Whipping cream and powdered sugar can be replaced with 8oz of Cool Whip (the original recipe)

Directions

Add powdered sugar to whipping cream in a cold bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Set aside. Soften cream cheese in microwave for 15 seconds. Mix cream cheese, 1 tablespoon milk, and sugar with wire whisk until smooth. Gently stir in 1 1/2 cups of the whipped topping. Spread onto bottom of crust.

Pour 1 cup milk into large bowl. Add pumpkin, pudding mixes, and spices. Beat with wire whisk until well mixed and set. Mixture will be thick. Spread over cream cheese layer. If using homemade pumpkin puree that has not been squeezed of excess liquid, start with half the milk and add more if needed. Spread over cream cheese layer.

Refrigerate 4 hours or until set. Garnish with whipped cream. Keep leftover pie refrigerated. Each pie serves about 8.

By Chris, 18. November 2012, 21:42 o'clock

With today’s snow, I went to buy some hot cocoa at the store.  I was disgusted to find that all the mixes in my store were made with hydrogenated oils, so I set out to make my own.  Here is my recipe, modified from an Alton Brown recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa (Dutch-process preferred)
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • Cinnamon, to taste
  • Hot water

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and incorporate evenly. Sift into second bowl to smooth mixture.  In a small pot, heat 4 to 6 cups of water.

Fill your mug one third full with the mixture and pour in hot water. Stir to combine. Seal the rest in an airtight container, keeps indefinitely in the pantry. This also works great with warm milk.

By Chris, 28. January 2009, 00:03 o'clock

So one of my favorite things to think about is politics. I feel kinda guilty admitting that, as it’s given much more attention and importance than I feel it deserves. At the same time, it’s been a long time since I’ve had such mixed feelings about an election.

Two years ago, I believed Obama was a longshot candidate. Today, he seems a near certain victor. Eight years ago McCain was too much of a maverick for republicans. Today, he’s towing the party line (not Bush’s line, but still hat the party leadership wants). I would have happily voted for the 2000 McCain, since a true bipartisan and maverick would be a welcome change. Obama’s claims of post-partisan politics are only true if you define post-partisan as left-leaning.

What I like about Obama:

  • He’s an inspiring speaker
  • He comes across as presidential
  • He’s young
  • He’s smart
  • He’s inspiring
  • He took down the Clinton machine-ended the Bush-Clinton dynasty
  • Would probably not deliver on promises and would be a one term president

And what I dislike:

  • He’s arrogant like no other. I think he’s running for Jesus, not president
  • He uses people for political gain
  • His associations are scary
  • He says what you want to hear, not what he intends to do

What I like about McCain:

  • He’s spent time in Washington
  • He’s not a Bush clone – as a matter of fact, he was the bane of his party in 2000
  • He’s a centrist
  • He actually has meaningful experience

What I dislike about McCain:

  • He’s a hothead
  • He’s old
  • He has a Bush-like tendency for gaffes
  • His conservatism is suspect-seems to be for big government, like most current republicans
  • He’s inarticulate
  • I can’t see him as president
  • The chances of him dying in office are too high to have inexperienced Palin as the vice president
  • Would most likely be a one term president due to age

All that said, I can’t vote for either major party candidate. I’m investigating my options. Looking into third parties and write ins. Whatever your political persuasion, go vote next Tuesday. It’s critical in shaping who runs next time around.

By Chris, 27. October 2008, 23:33 o'clock

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