Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why It's Movember To Me

This past weekend a coworker passed away. For a year I have been following her valiant struggle against cancer through the group her close friends set up on Facebook. They chronicled her story. They started with some of her treatments, her participation in the Pink Heals Tour, through the ups and downs she went through, all the way through the funeral today. Another youthful life snatched away by the evil that is cancer.
Right now I have two aunts fighting breast and lung cancer, a cousin fighting lung cancer, my dad fought prostate cancer, numerous friends are fighting or have fought off cancers of various kinds. I've lost a grandmother, an uncle and a more than a few friends to this scourge.

That's why I'm raising funds during the month now known as Movember, to help the Movember Foundation fund organizations such as the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Lance ArmstrongsLIVESTRONG so they can continue their work in helping educate and research in the fight against cancer.

Please go to my Movember Mo Space page and donate a buck or two or five or a hundred. It goes to a good cause in helping fight against cancer.

If you're in Michigan, please also consider dropping by and donating a buck or two to my friend Scott's Southwest Michigan Movember team. This is his first year joining in and I'd like to see his team do well, too.
Check back throughout Movember and I'll post pics of my mustachioed self.

This post is cross-posted on my other blog The Crossing of Marketing and IT.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bavarian Dream Vacation - Day 3, Augsburg

This is part 3 of a series. Check out Part 1 and Part 2

For reference, here's the map:

View Bavaria Things To See in a larger map

Day 3 - Augsburg
Most people I know who travel to Germany hit the larger cities and the popular tourist spots. One place which is often overlooked is the beautiful, ancient city of Augsburg. Founded by Caesar Augustus over 2000 years ago, Augsburg has been an important central stop on major trade routes since that time. There are many interesting and historic sites to see there. Augsburg is a convenient day trip from Munich, being only about an hour one-way by train from the Munich Main Tran Station. Ask about special one-day round trip fares (Sonderrueckfahrkarte) when you purchase your tickets.

I have to add a little disclaimer here - one of the reasons I love Augsburg so much is because I lived there for three years. I know it rather well and it holds a special place in me. With that, here are my must-see suggestions for Augsburg:
  • Transportation Around Augsburg - From the Augsburg Hauptbahnhof, take the 3 or 4 streetcar to Konigsplatz, then change to the 2 line which will take you to the first suggested stop ...
  • Mozarthaus Augsburg - This was not the home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but rather was the home of his father, Leopold Mozart. The elder Mozart was born in Augsburg. It's an interesting historical site. Stop at the Mozarthaus stop on the 2 streetcar line.
  • The Cathedral - The Dom Unserer Lieben Frau  in Augsburg is a site to behold. From the outside you can see the different architectural styles which were common as each part was built over the centuries. Inside, under the main altar, you can climb down the stairs and see the original catacombs where early Christians met. Another interesting feature is just to the south of the site. An ancient Roman bath was discovered while workers were digging trenches to lay steam pipes under that part of the city. There are many examples of Augustine-era statues and artwork displayed in a shelter near the bath.
  • The Perlach Tower - The Perlachturm sits across from the Rathausplatz and next to the City Hall (Rathaus). It's a bit of a climb, but the tower offers one of the best vistas of Augsburg and the surrounding area. 
  • Augsburg City Hall - The Augsburger Rathaus is right next to the Perlachturm. While most of the building houses the official city offices, the highlight of the building is the Goldenen Hall on the top floor. The Hall was painstakingly restored after World War II, even down to repainting the trim in 14k gold leaf paint. The hall is open to tourists during normal business hours unless there is an official function taking place. 
  • St. Ann Church - The St. Anna Kirche has an interesting place in history. It was one of the places Martin Luther hid while he translated the Bible from Latin to German. You can visit the attic room which served as his home and work room. The church itself is set up to be half Lutheran and half Catholic. On one end of the building is the Lutheran alter where those services are held. On the other end is the Catholic altar where mass is done. The Sunday services alternate and the backs of the benches flip over to allow one to comfortably sit and face the desired altar. It's really quite interesting.
  • Fuggerei - The Fuggers were an important merchant family based in Augsburg. As one of their charitable efforts, Jakob Fugger built a home where the poor could live for a nominal fee so long as they agreed to pray for the souls of the Fugger family each day. The community still exists, and people still live there for an annual fee of 0.88 Euros. The Fuggers are an interesting historical family and the Fuggerei is an interesting place to visit.
  • The Roman Museum - As I mentioned above, Augsburg was founded by Caesar Augustus. Because of that, building projects in and around the city quite often also end up being archeological sites. The Römisches Museum Augsburg is where many of the uncovered historical articles are on display. It is filled with everything from statues of Roman gods to sewing needles. This is a "can't miss" visit for the history buff.
  • Basilica of St. Ulrich and Afra - Although, perhaps, not as historical as the Cathedral, the Basilika St. Ulrich und Afra is, nonetheless, a great place to visit. An ornate and beautiful building, St. Ulrich is entombed in the basement. 
Unfortunately, it appears that my favorite places to eat, however I suggest the Sieben Schwaben Stuben as a place to catch lunch. It's between St. Anne's and the Rathausplatz.

That wraps up my 3-Day Bavarian dream trip. I hope you found it helpful.

Please feel free to drop your Augsburg tour tips in the comments.

Bavarian Dream Vacation - Day 2, Schwangau

This is part 2 of a series. Check out Part 1 and Part 3.

For reference, here's the map:

View Bavaria Things To See in a larger map

Day 2: The Beautiful Castles in Schwangau.
Georgette mentioned her son already had in mind to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau near Füssen in far Southern Bavaria. This is the beautiful castle Walt Disney used as the model for Cinderella's Castle at his theme parks. I thought that an excellent idea; and, while they are there I also suggested they visit the Hohenschwangau Castle, which is right across the valley from its more famous companion.

The history of these castles is quite interesting. King Ludwig II of Bavaria (who is known as "Mad King Ludwig") just about bankrupted the kingdom building beautiful castles - none of which he actually lived in.

Neuschwanstein Castle - Perhaps the most famous is the Schloss Neuschwanstein. This beautiful, white, towered creation was built right across the valley from Ludwig's home. It took many years to build and is a magnificent structure, both inside and out. It is well worth the time to take the guided tour so you can learn more of the history and see some behind the scenes things. One of these is the grand ballroom floor, a large section of which could be lowered into the kitchen below. A large table and place settings could be set up on the floor and raised back up for the banquet portion of a party. When the food was done, it could be lowered, cleared and raised again to make a large dance floor.

Hohenschwangau Castle - Opposite the Neuschwanstein is the boyhood home of King Ludwig, the Hohenschwangau. Don't let the somewhat plain exterior fool you, the inside is a sight to behold. Situated on Swan Lake (the same Lake of ballet fame), this site if often overshadowed and overlooked by a great many tourists. The rooms inside are spectacular. The furnishings and artwork are spectacular. One room features a full mural on one wall depicting the life of Charlemagne, who the Bavarians believe was born in Munich.

Pilgrimage Church of Wies - Georgette's son mentioned visiting the Pilgrimage Church of Wies in Steingaden, which is just north of Schwangau. I never visited that place, but from the history I read online it seems like a very interesting place. Steingaden can be easily reached by bus from the train station in Füssen.

Schwangau is easy to get to via train from Munich. Take the train to Füssen and then a bus to Hohenschwangau. Mike's Bike Tours of Munich also offer a charter bus tour, which might be more convenient.

This trip will take up the whole day, so I wouldn't recommend doing much more than a having a relaxing dinner upon return to Munich.

Thus ends day 2. Next up is day 3 in Augsburg.

Please feel free to leave your Schwangau tour tips in the comments.

Bavarian Dream Vacation - Day 1, Munich

My friend, Georgette, mentioned to me she was going to spend a few days in Southern Germany with her son during their trip to Europe next year. She asked me what I what I would recommend they see in Munich if I were going (and how I wish I was). I started to put together a Google Map for them with recommendations, and thought I'd just go ahead and share my suggestions with all of you, too.

They only have three days to spend in Germany since they are on a schedule. So, here's how I would break it down. For reference, here's the map:

View Bavaria Things To See in a larger map

Day 1: Munich
Georgette told me once her and her son took a guided Segway tour of Austin, Texas and thoroughly enjoyed it. They plan to do the same in Munich. This is a great idea. There are two I found:
  • Mike's Bike Tours of Munich offers Segway and other tours in Bavaria. They are conveniently located near the Hofbrauhaus (a popular tourist attraction) and are highly rated by previous customers.
  • City Segway Tours is located close to the Main Train Station (Hauptbahnhof), also a convenient location.
Here are my München must-see suggestions for:
  • Frauenkirche - The twin-domed Cathedral of Our Lady is a prominent Munich landmark. Just a short distance from the Marienplatz, it's easy to see and find from just about anywhere in the central part of the city. It's a beautiful, old church and well worth taking an hour or so to walk through. 
  • Asamkirche Dominikanerinnen - Georgette mentioned wanted to visit a couple of churches. One I think they should see is the Asamkirche, which is just south of the Marienplatz on Sendlinger Strasse. This old, dark church is a great representation of Gothic-style churches. It's very interesting and takes just a few minutes to walk through.
  • Marienplatz and The Rathaus Glockenspiel - The Marienplatz is the heart of touristy Munich. There are shops and restaurants all around the perimeter ranging from old-style Gasthauses to American fast food. The highlight of the area is the Glockenspiel atop the city hall. Every day at 11 AM (also at Noon and 5 PM in the summer) the clock strikes and a play begins depicting the 1568 Wedding of Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria and Renata of Lorraine as well as the "Cooper Dance" which marked the end of a plague of that era. The show lasts around 15 minutes. Take the U3 or U6 and get off at the Marienplatz station.
  • For The History Buff - There is a display atop on of the buildings on the south-east part of the Marienplatz with photos of what the area looked like before World War II and at the end of that war. You can compare it with how it looks now and see that great pains were taken to restore the buildings just as they were. I can't remember exactly where it is, but I'll bet the Segway tour guides or the locals know where it is.
  • Beyrischer Donisl - After seeing the Glockenspiel show at 11 AM, a great place to stop for lunch is the Bayrischer Donisl. This was always my favorite place to lunch in Munich. Check out the Bavarian specialties and (of course) the excellent beer. I would recommend a sausage sampler platter including some Bavarian Weisswurst (White Sausage) - it can't be beat. It's located on the Marienplatz to the left as you're looking at the Glockenspiel.
  • BMW Museum - I'm a car buff, so I would be remiss if I didn't mention the BMW Museum located near the Olympic Park in the northern part of the city. The museum covers the history of the car maker from the beginning to modern times. Take the U3 to the Olympiazentrum station.
  • Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site - While this may not be a "happy tourist" place to go, while you're in the area it's certainly something to see. "Never Again" is the phrase you hear echoed over and over as you go through the museum and walk the grounds. It's certainly a heavy place, but important. Take the S2 from Munich to the Dachau station.
  • Beer Halls - There are a number of beer halls in Munich. The most famous (and arguably more for tourists) is the Hofbräuhaus. The food is great and the music is festive. And, of course, the beer is pretty good, too. I spent many a good time hanging around with friends and meeting people from all over the world there. Another nice place to visit, and less "touristy" is the Löwenbräukeller. Either spot would be great for dinner and a good time to wind up a great day.
Also mention: The Beer And Oktoberfest Museum. I've never been there and I don't even know if it existed when I last visited Munich, but it look like it might be interesting.

Thus ends day 1. Next up is day 2 in Schwangau.

Please feel free to leave your Munich tour tips in the comments.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Review: "Your Money God's Way" by Amie Streater

I'm a fan of Dave Ramsey and have been coordinating his Financial Peace University classes at our church for 2 years now. Getting my financial life back in order has been a great experience. I wanted to check out this book by Amie Streater to, perhaps, get another perspective into handling money more wisely.

Instead of a "how to" book, Your Money God's Way - Overcoming the 7 Money Myths That Keep Christians Broke delves more into the reasons of why we Christians sometimes make bad decisions about money and counters those mistakes with Biblical principles and ideals. The author identifies seven problem areas some have and shows better ways based on her personal experience as well as the experiences of some she counsels in her work as Associate Pastor of Financial Stewardship at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

While I highly recommend consulting Dave Ramsey's organization for learning the nuts and bolts of money management, Amie Streater gets down to the nitty gritty of helping us understand why it's important to manage our money wisely, where some of our bad money management theology comes from and how to get our minds thinking in the right direction. It helps Christians not to "check their brains at the door" when it comes to sound, Biblical money management.

Well written and well sourced, I recommend this book highly if you're looking for more knowledge about how to better handle your money.

Your Money God's Way by Amie Streater (Amazon Affiliate Link)

Disclaimer: I am a member of Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger program. Although Thomas Nelson Publishing provided the book at no cost to me, this review is my honest opinion of the work.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Desert Storm - Still Waiting

Our daily routine during Desert Shield (which was the build-up phase of the war before Desert Storm officially commenced on January 16, 2001) was fairly sedate. The "OPTEMPO" (Operations Tempo) was rather relaxed. We did have time for side projects as I described in my last installment, but there were "Army" things to do, too.

Guard duty first comes to mind. Doing guard duty was so ingrained in Army life that one's first experience with it comes during basic training. Our time in the desert was certainly no exception to this.

Our platoon was assigned to help the Motor Pool folks guard the "gate" at the southeast portion of the perimeter. There were two troopers on guard at that location at all times, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) and a lower-enlisted person. We had enough people around that we were hit with a two-hour shift about once every 4-5 days. One person was stationed near the gate who was responsible to stop vehicles and check for proper response to the challenge of the day. The other person sat in a small bunker set up about 250 feet away with the M-60 machine gun covering the person on the gate. Each person would put in an hour at each point, sharing the responsibility. A camouflage net was set up near the gate so the person there had at least a little shade. The bunker, as I recall, was rather comfortable to sit in.

On one of my first shifts at the gate, someone from the regiment's support squadron stopped by to drop off food and pick up trash. Of course, he didn't know the proper response to the password. I tried to call the mess sergeant to get him to come and verify the person's identity, but no one would answer. The sergeant driving the truck was rather angry that I wouldn't let him through, but I didn't know who he was - and "orders is orders." The way I looked at it, he should have checked for the proper response before he left.

I remember one day we got quite a surprise. We were hanging around our area, probably playing cards or something, when we heard shots fired from the M-60 in the direction of the gate. We all grabbed our rifles and ran towards the gate. When we go there we found one of the sergeants from the motor pool yelling at the young man behind the M-60. There were two things wrong with this situation:

  1. There was no one anywhere near the gate other than the two guys on guard.
  2. The sergeant doing the yelling was one of the most easy-going guys on the planet. None of us had ever heard him raise his voice, ever.
This was quite an unusual event. Later we found out that the guy behind the '60 was fooling around and wondered what would happen "... if I turned off the safety and pulled the trigger." Well, he found out. He shot four or five rounds towards the sergeant, all of which missed (thankfully) and hit the ground about 5 feet in front of him. I can't say I blame him for being upset.

Another of our "hobbies" was burying commo wire. Commo wire was what we used to connect our field phones to the squadron's switchboard in the motor pool tent. It was a double-strand cable with plastic insulation, rather similar to 20-gauge speaker wire.Using the field phone it was possible to call any unit within the perimeter. Of course, wire simply laid on the ground would be tripped over and damaged quite easily. It was also standard procedure to hide common wire, and burying it was the easiest way to protect and hide the wire.

Other than the area where engineers had moved the sand aside to expose the bedrock for the flight line, the entire camp was like a huge sandbox with the sand being several inches to several feet deep. The problem with burying something in the sand is that it tends to work its way up and out eventually. This is especially true when the wind blows incessantly and people are walking on top of what you buried. This meant we had to bury the entire length of wire from our camp are to the switchboard every two or three days. That was a hot, sweaty job.

We also had to build fighting positions for the members of our platoons. For the first go 'round, we dug a small trench, lined it with sand bags and put a roof over it. This was similar to a "traditional" type fighting position, except that it held about 10 people.

Later, one of the pilots (our scrounger) thought it would be a great idea to build a bunker. His plan was that we would have some engineers dig a large hole with a backhoe, build a small building inside the hole, and then have the engineers backfill the hole with a bulldozer.

After the engineers dug our hole, we spent a couple weeks building the building. We had some pretty smart folks who were very handy with tools. Because of my lack of tool prowess, I was merely unskilled labor. We put together quite a nice little building, though. It was quite a sturdy structure - until the bulldozer pushed the sand back into the hole. Although the guys who designed the structure were pretty smart about how to put up a sturdy structure, they weren't engineers and forgot to take into account the weight of the sand pushing against the outside walls. Once the bulldozer shoved the sand back into the hole, the building twisted and collapsed. Although it was a bit of a waste, we did learn something from it. And, it was a great way to pass the time doing something constructive.

We also did some running to stay in shape. There were some roads worn cut through the squadron area which were suitable for running. We ran around the roads, sometimes with our backpacks on. This was best done early in the morning or late in the evening when it was cooler.

We had some flight missions during this time. More on that next time.

This is part 6 in a series. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Desert Storm - The Wait Is on

We found ourselves in the middle of the desert in the Middle of Saudi Arabia. The area was barren and featureless; so much so that maps of the area were nothing more than brown pieces of paper with grid lines and the occasional elevation marking. There was nothing as far as the eye could see, other than the camel herds led around by Bedouins which passed by from time to time.

It was here that Longknife Squadron made it's home for the next three months. We carved out a spot in the desert where engineers had fashioned a flight line by pushing aside the sand and exposing the bedrock below. The entire squadron was arranged in an oblong circle, longer on the east and west sides and shorter at the north and south. The flight line ran along the western side while our platoon's camp was situated on the southwest side near one of the entrance points. The entire circle was surrounded by triple strands of razor wire (which we called "concertina wire").

When we first arrived, of course, there was nothing but vehicles and aircraft. We soon started putting together a reasonably comfortable camp for ourselves. One of the pilots was an expert scrounger. He managed to get us sheets of plywood to make nice floors for our tents as well as some hooches for some of the guys and a large storage closet for the goodies we received. He also managed to "procure" quite a bit of other lumber for building projects (2x4s and 4x4s).

As time went on we made improvements to the area. We built a nice place at one end of the our site we called our "breakfast nook." This was a patio-like area with a large crate for table where we had our morning  coffee and breakfast time. The benches around the crate were fashioned somewhat like a picket fence as the backs of the seating bench with wooden seats. The large area really resembled a scale model of an Old West Town, so we christened it "Quickfix, Arizona."

For the first part of our stay there, we were only allowed to work in the mornings until around 11 AM or Noon. Work stopped then because it was just too hot. At 4 PM work could commence again.

Not that there was too much work to do. I've heard it said that war is nothing more than hour upon hour of sheer boredom punctuated by brief periods of sheer terror. In this case, the boredom lasted for months. Thankfully we had our projects to keep us busy. We also had daily games of cards (Spades and Cribbage were the most popular), Risk (we played A LOT of Risk), personal reading and answering the many letters we got from home addressed to "Any Soldier." We got so many letters from complete strangers we couldn't possibly have answered them all. After a while we divided up those letters and only answered those which came from our home states. If you sent a letter and didn't get a "Thank you," please consider this your thanks - your support was greatly appreciated.

Our main project was making sure we had some creature comforts. One of these was a shower. It was interesting that a company-sized unit with only twelve members was afforded a separate shower in their area, while our platoon with twenty members was forced to share a similar shower facility with the rest of our troop, which had over over 100 members. Thanks to some creative thinking, we built our own two-stall shower. It consisted of wooden pallets for the floors and ceiling, a 2x4 framework and plywood for the walls. At first we used camping shower bags for a water source. Later, someone took the rubber hoses off the shower bags and attached them to metal drums mounted to the roof of the shower. A frame was built over which plastic map overlay material was wrapped making for a very nice solar heater.

Next to the shower was our laundry area. We had some large containers, which I believe were for carrying some of the aircrafts' equipment during shipping, which we used for washing and rinsing our clothes. Someone in the group fashioned "T" poles from 4x4s and strung up a clothesline. Clothes dried very quickly in the hot Saudi sun.

For whatever reason, the squadron leadership didn't think it appropriate that we should have our own shower and demanded we give it to another unit. After threatening to burn it down (after all, we procured the materials and built the thing) they relented, only to forbid the water truck from filling it a few days later. Some quick thinking (and some bribes from our "Goody Locker") soon solved that problem.

The Goody Locker was where we stored the largess of the bounty from the support we received from folks back home. We had more candy, cookies (and other assorted baked goods), gum, toilet paper, baby wipes, cigarettes (but not smokeless tobacco), powdered drink mixes, tea bags and other items than we could possibly use. We shared quite a bit of our bounty and used a lot for trading.

For example, I once wrote home that I was tired of the toilet paper the Army gave us because it was similar in texture to 20-grit sandpaper. A few weeks later I got a case (that's 24 rolls) of an extra soft name-brand toilet paper in the mail. Needless to say, that was quite a popular item. Another time I mentioned we had a TV and VCR along with a generator to run them, but no movies. A few weeks later I got a box from home containing a dozen or so VCR movies my sister and her class at school scrounged from home or from video rental places. All of us got stuff like this - and I am quite grateful to this day for that support. It really did make life a lot more bearable.

That's not to say the Army didn't take care of us. We were supplied large quantities of bottled water, a daily ration of ice, food, clothes and shelter. We would have survived quite nicely without the help from home, but it helped made things a whole lot better.

There are a lot of "Army" things to do, too. I'll cover those in the next installment so you don't get the idea we lazed around the whole time we were waiting for the shooting war to start.

This is part 5 in a series. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19