Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Awesome Year- November

I know that I have been doing my awesome year posts in order but this one just happened and I cannot wait! It happened two days ago and I am still smiling about it. 

So I was struggling with what this month's awesome thing should be. It gets really hard to come up with these things after a while. So I went home to SC for Thanksgiving and the Sunday night after my mom, dad, and I were going to see The Story Tour in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Christian Music
Everyone singing at the end
If you don't know what The Story is or have not heard Music Inspired by the Story, well you are seriously missing out! The Story is a Bible study written by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee and it is the Bible written in easy to read, novel form and the idea is that churches can go through it one year. So if that's not cool enough they made a cd to accompany it! And if that is not cool enough all of the music is written by my favorite artist Nichole Nordeman and musical genius Bernie Herms.

Natalie Grant and Nichole Nordeman
Nichole Nordeman and Natalie Grant singing I'm with You

The cd is a two cd set divided into the Old Testament and New Testament and each song is written from the perspective of a famous Bible character and sung by a different Christian singer. It features tons of awesome people like Natalie Grant, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Mac Powell from Third Day, Mark Hall from Casting Crowns, Francesca Battistelli, Mandisa, Chris Tomlin and many more.  For a full list click here. Obviously it is kind of difficult to get all of those people scheduled on the same tour so it was only a sampling of them but still completely awesome!

Natalie Grant
Natalie Grant Singing Alive! 
So if going to see a bunch of Christian music all-stars perform wasn't cool enough, we saw it from the 3rd row. And even better, they had a full orchestra and band! It was beyond awesome, incredible, or even amazing! The music was incredible, the artists were incredible, Randy Frazee telling the story of the Bible between songs was incredible. It was all around incredible!!

As if all of that was not awesome enough (and did I mention incredible), it got better!! Nichole Nordeman is on the tour and she recently published her first book Love Story which I read in about 24 hours (this is a real feat considering I am a painfully slow reader). I could not put it down. Each sentence and phrase was so beautifully and artfully crafted I could have highlighted each one. And funny too! Nichole Nordeman certainly has the gift of storytelling and weaving humor, pain, and life into a tapestry of Biblical truths. 

Christian Music
The guys singing Empty
As if all of that was not awesome enough (and did I mention incredible), it got better!! Nichole Nordeman is on the tour and she recently published her first book Love Story which I read in about 24 hours (this is a real feat considering I am a painfully slow reader). I could not put it down. Each sentence and phrase was so beautifully and artfully crafted I could have highlighted each one. And funny too! Nichole Nordeman certainly has the gift of storytelling and weaving humor, pain, and life into a tapestry of Biblical truths. 

So I took my copy of Love Story just in case she had the opportunity for an autograph. The show ended and as my parents and I were filing out in front of the stage I spotted her back stage. My mom just happened to have a pen and I decided I would wait a few minutes to see if anything played out. I thought that maybe if I was lucky a stage hand or a security guard would take the book over and have her sign it and bring it back. I thought if I was REALLY lucky she would see me, book in hand, and come over and sign it. I had no idea that I would be really REALLY REALLY lucky. A tour crew guy came over to talk to someone he knew and saw me with my book and asked if I was "waiting on Nichole?" (he said it so casually like I might actually know her). I explained that I was just hoping she would sign my book. He then said, "How about you meet her?" It was one of those moments that I feel like never happens to me. I was somehow able to utter yes and the nice man pulled out a meet and greet pass so that I could not only meet Nichole Nordeman but all of the other artists on the tour! Unfortunately he only had one left and didn't have any for my parents, but the nice folks at the Gwinnette Arena let them come with me. They took us back to a back room with 50-60 people and waited a little bit for the artists to come one by one and talk to each family and sign autographs. 

All of the artists were so nice! I'm not much of talker so it took me a few minutes to warm up to talking to people I have looked up to for most of my life. Nichole Nordeman signed my book and was so gracious. After she moved out of ear shot I looked at my mom and said, "Wasn't she soooo nice!!!" and my mom graciously acted like I wasn't a 13 year old girl who just met Justin Bieber. 

By the time Natalie Grant came around I was quite giddy and talkative. I told her how much I admired her and the work that she had done with Abolition International and fighting human trafficking which is something I am also very passionate about (and you can learn more about that by clicking here). We talked for a few minutes about Abolition International and music, how awesome her husband Bernie Herms is, and twitter (she also gave me high five, so we're practically best friends now right? Just kidding). 

We also met Bernie Herms, Mark Hall, Jeremy Camp, Matthew West, Todd Smith and Amy Perry of Selah, Christian rapper Rawsrvnt, and Randy Frazee.

Unfortunately, the tour was headed to Tampa that night so they were a little short on time and asked us not to take pictures so the best I can do is post these: 

Like I said, it was an amazing night! I have woken up every morning since with a smile on my face, and will probably wake up tomorrow the same way. If the tour is coming near you, be sure to go see it! The music is almost as incredible as the message it presents.  

For more awesome things I've done click here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Veteran's Day Tour

Happy late Veteran's Day!
Me and my bike in front of the USMC Iwo Jima Memorial
I wanted to write this post right after Veteran's day but because Congress was back in session the week was busier than I thought it would be. 

Let me start by saying I love Veteran's Day. It is a beautiful day set aside to honor and thank those who have served our country by fighting for and protecting our rights and freedoms. That being said I was really excited to be in our nation's capitol for this special day. 

I started searching what was going on DC for Veteran's Day more than a month ago. I was really disappointed to find out that DC does not have a Veteran's Day parade. Even the small town I grew up in has a Veteran's Day parade, and it has always been one of my favorite parts of growing up in a small town. The local National Guard always rolled out a tank or two and a Hummer, and helicopter. It was something my brother and I looked forward to every year and it gave our parents the opportunity to help us understand the sacrifice all of those in our military have made and how it is important and the least we can do to thank them. 

So I still wanted this to be a special day and since DC does not have a parade I decided to do my own little Veteran's Day tour. Thankfully it was a great sunny day for a bike ride. I started out riding down the National Mall, past the Lincoln Memorial, and over the Potomac River. It was a great view of the Potomac and you could even see the National Cathedral. 
Potomac River with National Cathedral in the distance
After crossing the Potomac into Virginia, I headed over to Arlington National Cemetery. 

A beautiful fall day at Arlington National Cemetery

If you have never been before this is a must see if you are in DC. If you have been before, then I'm sure I do not need to convince you to return. 

Although I have been before, I am always shocked by how many of the white headstones there are. If you are standing in the middle of the cemetery and look out at the rows and rows of headstones, it looks like they go on and on and never end. The view generates a wide variety of emotions: sadness, pride, nostalgia, patriotism mixed with a sense of awe at the beauty of it all.  
Arlington National Cemetery

After getting there and getting my bearings, I checked my watch and it was a few minutes after the hour meaning I had about 45 minutes to explore before the next changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the fall, winter and spring the guard changes every hour on the hour and in the summer it changes on every hour and half hour. 

While I was waiting for the next changing of the guard, I went to the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy. JFK's gravesite sits just below Arlington House and has a beautiful view of the cemetery and the Washington Monument and the US Capitol. 

The gravesite of JFK, his wife, their still born daughter and son who died 15 weeks before JFK. 

Looking out from the gravesite there is part of JFK's famous 1961 inaugural address ("Ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country") carved into the granite. It is such a beautiful and eloquent speech and is more than appropriate for not only JFK's gravesite, but also for the grave sites of so many who gave all that they could for their country, they gave their lives. 

President Kennedy Gravesite
View of DC from JFK Gravesite
Not far away from JFK's gravesite is Robert F. Kennedy's gravesite. In the picture below you can see a little bit of Arlington House at the top of the hill. I didn't make it up there on this trip but maybe next time I will. 

Robert F. Kennedy's Gravesite
One reason I posted this picture is because I was hoping someone out there could help me solve a mystery. If you notice on and around the grave people have placed different coins. I tried googling it but could not find what this signified. I read that leaving coins on military headstones is meant to send a message to the family with each denomination meaning something different. Leaving a penny simply means that you were there and visited, a nickel means you trained in bootcamp together, a dime means that you served with the deceased in some capacity, and a quarter means that you were with the person when they died. Robert F. Kennedy did serve in the military but because there are so many quarters and Kennedy did not die in military service I did not know if there was any other significance. 

After visiting the Kennedy grave sites I started making my way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I wanted to get there early so that I could get a good seat. 

I love the beauty and honor of the ceremony. I remember after my last visit I did a good bit of research on the Tomb Guards. I think I will save it for another post but if you would like to do some research on your own before then click here or here.

Unfortunately, for the actual Changing of the Guard I decided to take a video and was planing on posting clips of it but there was a major glitch in that plan. My phone froze up because it ran out of memory while recording it so it only saved the first few minutes of the ceremony and when I went to transfer what I had from my phone to iPhoto on my laptop it refuses to transfer. So if you would like to view the ceremony from the comfort of your own computer click here.

Directly behind where you stand to view the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a small museum with a variety of medals and different things about the 3rd Infantry and the Old Guard (the division of soldiers that tomb guards are chosen from as well as the burial details at Arlington). I have been to it before but it is closed on Mondays so I was unable to visit on this trip. However, there was a section open that I had never seen before. If you walk around towards the amphitheater, like you are going to the restroom, you will see the door where the Tomb Guards enter and exit. Inside the door is a case with a mannequin dressed in a Tomb Guard's uniform so you can see it up close and a case with different medals, flags, and other awards. All of these have some relation to the Tomb Guards. Below is a picture of the medals of a Tomb Guard who was killed in Vietnam. This display further exemplifies what type men the guards are and the sacrifice they are willing to make for our country. 

There are lots of memorials and things to see at Arlington National Cemetery. If you know someone who is buried there you can look up where the grave is before you go or at the visitor's center. For a list of all of the different memorials click here.

Unfortunately, it looked like it was about to rain so I was not able to see many because I was on my bike I wanted to get back into DC and a little closer to home if it did rain. I was able to see a few on my way out though. 

Memorials to those who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle, the Iran Rescue Mission of 1980,
and the Columbia Space Shuttle. 
USS Maine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
Mast of the USS Maine which was destroyed in Havana, Cuba in 1898. 
Finally when leaving the cemetery I stopped by what I think is one of the most iconic memorials in the world but especially in DC, the USMC Iwo Jima Memorial. It is not actually in Arlington Cemetery but just outside of it. There is a walking/biking path around to it or you can drive (it is about a mile walk/ride so if you are in a hurry you may just want to drive). 

There is also a great view of the city at the memorial. Below is one of my favorite photos I've taken while in DC. 

Iwo Jima Memorial DC

I wish I would have taken a picture of the quote on the side but didn't think about it at the time. It reads, "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue." I think that is the perfect quote for Veteran's Day. It is something we too often forget and sometimes need to be reminded of that without the valor of those who serve and have given their lives for our country we would be unable to enjoy the freedoms and the life we do today. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Amazing Year- March

March- Driving an Indy Car at Charlotte Motor Speedway

All Suited Up!!
Driving an Indy car, or any race car for that matter, has never really been on my list to do, but the opportunity presented itself and who am I turn down an adventure like this?

This was a political fundraiser for a SC candidate that my dad's company was supporting. Originally my mom, dad, and brother were suppose to go drive Nascar cars but that was rained out and when they rescheduled it was a day the track was planning on having Indy cars rather than stock cars and my mother had a baby shower to go to so I decided to take her place. 

It was a very nice evening. My dad, brother, brother's girlfriend, and I drove to Charlotte that Saturday afternoon and went to one of my favorite places in the world, Dave and Busters!! After an hour or two of playing games and winning prizes, we drove over to Charlotte Motor Speedway.  

Speedway Club
View of the track from the Speedway Club 
After we arrived we were taken to the Speedway Club for dinner. If you are anything like me, you are probably underestimating how nice a dinner at a famous Nascar track really is. It was phenomenal. It was a very elegant dining room complete with a baby grand piano player, fine silver, and a great view of the track. Not to mention the food was delicious!! 

After dinner we were taken down to the track for our safety instructions. The 20 minute safety video can be summed up in one line: don't hit the white line or you will crash. We then went to get our fireproof racing suits and headphones. It was a chilly March evening so I was thankful for the additional warmth of the suit.

Waiting to Drive
The staff also gives you a pager, kind of like what you get at a restaurant when you are waiting on a table. While you are waiting you can watch others race around the track. It is quite an adrenaline rush watching everyone speeding around. 

When your buzzer goes off, they start to get you ready to drive. First they tape some earbud headphones into your ears. The headphones plug into the radio and they tape them in so that when you put your helmet on and move your head around in your helmet the headphones don't come out. 

Once you have your helmet on and they test your headphones to make sure you can hear them, you are ready to drive. Getting in an Indy car is about what it looks like, a tight fit. Once you get in it is a little more roomy but getting in is quite awkward and odd because the car is so low to the ground, you have to step over the side, and the initial hole at the top that you are getting in is an odd shape and kind of tight.  

Once you are in, a staff member puts in the steering wheel, hooks up your headphones and tests them again, and gives you some final instructions before you are told to go. 

Putting in the Steering Wheel
These are real Indy cars that have been modified so that amateur drivers do not have to worry about shifting and stuff while going over 100 mph. However, they are not modified that much for smaller people. They do what they can to make it easier for shorter people to drive but there is only so much they can do. So if you get in and still cannot reach the pedals they have some cushions for you to sit on. I do not remember but I think I had one cushion behind me. Other women driving had two or three. 

When it is your turn to go, a man speaks to you through your headphones and tells you when to go. If you notice in the picture below there is something behind my white car. That is a 4-wheeler that pushes you off. It pushes you part of the way down pit lane and then your engine really kicks in and you pull out onto the track. 

Ready to Drive!!
When you are on the track, the man talking to you through your headphones is your best friend. He tells you when to accelerate more or less, when to pass or when someone is going to pass you (yes, there are other cars on the track with you, usually 3 cars on the track at a time), and if you are on a good or bad line. They told us before we started we would make three laps but they either gave us extra laps or it seemed like a lot more than three. The first lap is when you are warming up and starting to get the feel for things and then after that you can go as fast as you can. 

I do not remember how fast I went exactly, although it is somewhere on the certificate that they give you, but it was between 150 and 155 mph. My brother went about 155 mph, his girlfriend went faster than me but not as fast as him, and my dad went 149.5 mph. 

Messing around in Winner's Circle
My poor dad was one of the last people to go. While he was sitting in his car waiting to go, someone else driving had spun out. It was not a big deal but when someone spins out, even if they do not hit anything, they have an ambulance there that they send out. The driver was fine and even kept driving. This made my dad a little nervous and more nervous when the staff member told him that it was later in the evening than they usually drive and the tires were cold which makes them not respond as well. Dad told them that he didn't have to drive but they told him he would be fine. Needless to say, he was quite cautious, even at 149.5 mph. 

All in all it was a great day and a great event. Driving home on the interstate at a slow 70 mph was a little interesting but we made it home with a great experience to share!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Virtual Capitol Tour

Fall at the Capitol
Fall at the Capitol
As I may have mentioned before, I love the Capitol Building. The history, the architecture, the stories- the more I learn the more I love it. What is sad though, is that when people visit DC and realize that they have planned far too much than they can actually do, the Capitol is one of the first things they strike from their to do list, which is horrible!! I love the museums and galleries and restaurants and all of that but the Capitol is by far my favorite. You can see many different cool things and learn a lot in the Smithsonian museums, the Newseum, or the Spy Museum (all of which are wonderful!), but you cannot stand in the very footsteps of history in those places like you can at the Capitol. 

I think part of the reason people skip the Capitol tours is because they see the outside of the building and the dome and think that's pretty much all there is to it. They do not realize that there is so much more to it than just the outside. The inside is equally as beautiful if not more beautiful than the outside. 

The second reason I think people do not take a Capitol tour is because most people think about politics and think one of two things: divisive or boring. I'm not going to lie, politics can be both. However, the Capitol is so much more than just politics. It is the history of our country. I realize that most people also think history is boring, but this is not your typical school textbook history. Like I said above, this is standing in the footsteps of history. 

It is standing in the beautiful Capitol Rotunda where wounded Civil War soldiers were treated and died, where our country's heros are laid in State so that a grateful nation may pay their respects. It is where courageous people are honored with the Congressional Gold Medal. 

US Capitol Rotunda

It is seeing the plaque that marks the spot of the cornerstone laid by George Washington. 

It is about standing on the star in the middle of the Crypt, the original center of the DC grid system and learning how George and Martha Washington were supposed to be buried here but because of his great foresight and the burden he carried for this great country, he chose to be buried at Mount Vernon because he did not want to appear that he, nor any other president or single person, was the center of the government but that it is a government of the people. 

Capitol Crypt

It is where you can stand where Abraham Lincoln's desk was in the old House Chamber. It is where you can stand where John Quincy Adam's desk was and learn how he could hear the plans of the opposing party before getting up to debate. 

The Capitol, in all of its grand beauty, is the place where the geographic discovery of America and the democratic founding of America is remembered and celebrated and where history continues to be written everyday. It's a big deal, don't miss it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Amazing Year- February

February- Grand Canyon/Helicopter Tour
It was pretty chilly but completely awesome!!!
I have wanted to go to the Grand Canyon for some time. I just feel like it is one of those historic, American things that everyone should do. Adding insult to injury, one of my Chinese friends got to go several years ago and she was shocked that I had not seen one of the most famous things in America but she had. So in February, my dad just happened to have some type of meeting/conference in Phoenix and we were able to fly out the weekend before and see the Grand Canyon. We flew into Phoenix on a Friday afternoon, rented a car, and drove for a few hours to Sedona, Arizona. Saturday morning we woke and drove for about two more hours to Grand Canyon National Park. It was a lot of driving, especially after flying for about four hours, but it certainly is one of the more scenic drives I have ever experienced. 

Although I wanted to go and had heard how massive and beautiful it is, my expectations were still along the lines of, "Oh ok so it's a big hole." I think it is one of those things you really have to see and experience to understand what is so great and magnificent about it. "A big hole" does not even begin to describe it. It is incredible!! It is one of those things you could stare at for hours and never get tired of looking at it. 


Unfortunately, it was pretty chilly (there was snow in shady areas) and we didn't have time to hike down into the canyon, so although it is on my bucket list, I am only partially checking it off. I would love to go back and explore some more. 

Helicopter tour with Mom and Dad
However, I was able to completely check off one thing, riding in a helicopter! Before making the drive back to Phoenix from Sedona we did a little site seeing in Sedona... via helicopter! Again, I have always wanted to ride in a helicopter ever since my brother and I watched the A-team and Operation Dumbo Drop (the helicopter scene at the beginning is awesome!) when we were little (or maybe whenever they are on tv) which is funny considering our pilot was a former combat pilot. 

If you are ever in Sedona and have the opportunity go on a helicopter tour. Although my mom says it pushed her to her limit of adventure, I think all three of us would recommend it and agree that it is a great way to quickly see a lot of scenery as well as giving you a much different perspective of it all. 

The only other way to get the "bird's eye view" is to do like these folks and climb up on top of a pile of rocks. But if you are like me, that is more than a little out of your comfort zone. 

"Co-pilot" Haney at your service
Although it was a quick trip with a good bit of flying and driving time, it was well worth it. I really look forward to going back and taking my brother. I think he would really enjoy both the Grand Canyon and the helicopter ride.