A Baker's Dozen: The Favorite Places I've Eaten

I love to eat. Just look at me. It shows.

And over the years, I've eaten at some fine restaurants. So I thought I'd take just a few minutes to reflect and share my favorites out of all those great places and great meals.

1. Paesano's Pasta House, Oxford, Ohio. Not because it's run by friends, but because it's great eating. I've never been disappointed in a meal at Paesano's. I especially love their butternut squash ravioli, when it's available.

2. Lambert's, Springfield, Missouri. Home of the throwed rolls. There are only two of these restaurants in the world (the other is also in Missouri). The rolls and the free sides they bring to the table are unbelievably good.

3. The Glendale Gaslight Cafe, Cincinnati, Ohio. This tiny restaurant is located in historic Glendale, just a couple blocks north of the more famous Grand Finale. We like it as much as or more than that other fine restaurant.

4. The Parson's Table, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Actually, it's in Little River, but it's a memorable place to eat, and one I hope to return to.

5. Champagne brunch on The Queen Mary, Los Angeles, California. The lovely Robin and I were hosted here ten or so years ago by our friends Dave and Becky.

6. Inka Grill, Cusco, Peru. Our friends Don and Christie recommended this place, and they were right. It was excellent. The lovely Robin and I both tasted alpaca for the first time at this decidedly upscale Peruvian restaurant.

7. The Chart House, Cardiff, California. Back in the nineties, I made frequent trips to the area on business, and enjoyed several fine meals at the Chart House.

8. The Armenian Tavern, Jerusalem, Israel. I've had just one meal here, in 2005, but I hope to return. Armenian cuisine, they explain, is similar to Turkish. What do I know? It was good.

9. Sol de Mayo, Arequipa, Peru. We ate here in May 2009 with our friends Don and Christie, and loved the company, the food, the beautiful setting, and the traditional dancers.

10. Amor de Brazil, Cincinnati, Ohio. It closed abruptly last March, I hear, but we ate here with our friends Wayne and Cheryl a few months prior, and loved it. Lotsa meat. Mmmm.

11. The Golden Lamb, Lebanon, Ohio. The lovely Robin and I ate one of our first meals as a married couple at this historic inn and restaurant, and have returned many times since.

12. The Grand Finale, Cincinnati, Ohio. We last ate here with Aubrey and Kevin and our friends Jim and Diane. The lovely Robin always gets their puff pastry, one of their specialties.

13. The Precinct, Cincinnati, Ohio. I've only eaten there a couple times, and it's not cheap, but boy, is it good. Great steaks.

Of course, there are many others I could add. And will. Unfortunately, for my waistline (what waistline?). What about you? What are your favorites?

10 Places I Would Love to See Before I Die But Probably Won't

These last few days I posted 20 Places I Plan to See Before I Die. I thought I'd add ten more places that are probably pipe dreams. But you never know. In no particular order:

Lhasa, Tibet.The seat of the Dalai Lama, the capital of Tibet, and one of the highest capitals in the world. The Norbulingka summer palace and gardens to the southwest of the city were constructed in the 18th century under the 7th Dalai Lama.

Venice, The city that stretches across 118 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. Called by some the most beautiful city built by man.

The Forbidden City. Situated at the center of the ancient city of Beijing and built between 1406 and 1420 during the Ming Dynasty. It consist of 90 courtyards and palaces, 8,704 rooms and 980 buildings.

Tahiti. An island in French Polynesia in the southern Pacific Ocean. I would wanna stay in a place like this!

The Great Wall of China. It was built, rebuilt, and maintained between the fifth century BC and the sixteenth century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire from Xiongnu attacks during various successive dynasties. The majority of the existing wall were built during the Ming Dynasty. It's the only manmade object on earth that is visible from space.

Mont Saint-Michel, the small rocky island on the north coast of France at the mouth of the Couesnon River in Normandy. A medieval Benedictine Abbey and steepled church occupies most of the 1 km-diameter clump of rocks jutting out of the waters of the English Channel.

Key West. Not just because it's the southernmost point in the Continental U.S. Also because it's the last of the Florida Keys. And because of the Hemingway associations.

St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai. Perhaps the oldest working Christian monastery in the world, this Greek Orthodox monastery sits at the feet of the traditional Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

New Orleans. Definitely NOT during Mardi Gras, but I would like to experience the architecture, cuisine, and music of this unique city.

New Zealand. Like many, I was a sucker for the New Zealand I saw depicted in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. It strikes me as one of many positive and persuasive answers to the question, "Can pleasure travel be a form of worship?"

20 Places I Plan to See Before I Die (Pt. 4)

Here's the final five places I plan to see before I die (if God wills), the list I started four days ago:

16. Alaska. Maybe it was Michener's book, Alaska, but I have long wanted to see the wild splendor of our forty-ninth state.

17. The Aurora Borealis. Okay, so it's not a "place." But if we time it just right, maybe we can see the Northern Lights on our trip to Alaska. Two for the price of one.

18. Paris. For our fiftieth wedding anniversary in 2027, if God grants, I would love to take the lovely Robin to see these last three sites on my list. In Paris, I would hope to see the Louvre, which has long been a desire, as well as Notre Dame Cathedral. And Versailles, if possible. And I want to sit in a sidewalk cafe eating cheese and bread.

19. Rome. The Eternal City. Coliseum. Catacombs. Vatican City. St. Peter's Basilica. The Pantheon. And more.

20. The Alsace. My ancestors emigrated from this area on the border of France and Switzerland; my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather's last European home was in a town called Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines (and near a tiny village named Hostett, interestingly enough).

There's a chance, by the way, that I could see the Alsace as early as next year (in our October 2010 speaking trip to Germany), which would certainly ease some of the pressure on that fiftieth anniversary trip!

And left off the list are a few places I plan to see as part of some of those trips above, like Pergamum and Philippi (on our "Journeys of Paul Cruise") and Jerash, one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world (in our 2010 trip to Jordan and Israel).

And who knows if I'll get to see all these places, by the time it's all said and done. But it's fun to anticipate. And it will be fun to try.

20 Places I Plan to See Before I Die (Pt. 3)

Here is #11-15 of the twenty places I plan (and hope) to see before I die:

11. The Greek isle of Patmos. Where John the Beloved was exiled and wrote The Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Another stop on our 2012 "Journeys of Paul Cruise."

12. England. We visited England in 1995, and have since longed to get back. So I'm hoping that sometime around 2015, if I can save my pennies, we can take a British Isles tour and see England again, as well as the next two sites on the list (and I'd like to spend more time in the Cotswolds this time around).

13. Scotland. Edinburgh. Melrose Abbey. Stirling. Iona. I wanna see it all.

14. Ireland. I'm hoping the Emerald Isle will be another part of our British Isles trip.

15. Hawaii. I've never been. Neither has Robin. I hope to take her to Hawaii for our fortieth wedding anniversary, in 2017.

(Final installment will be posted tomorrow)

20 Places I Plan to See Before I Die (Pt. 2)

I started listing yesterday the twenty places I plan to see before I die (unless in God's loving providence he takes me to heaven sooner than age 70). Here are five more:

6. Athens. In 2012, the lovely Robin and I hope to host our first ever "Journeys of Paul Cruise," which will take us to sites #6-11 on this list. The first stop will be the historical and architectural splendor that is the ancient city of Athens. The Acropolis. The Parthenon. Mars Hill, where Paul preached his famous sermon to the Athenians.

7. Corinth, the city that inspired at least three letters of Paul (of which two survive). Here I'll be able to stand on the Bema where Paul stood. Aquila and Priscilla also lived here.

8. Thessaloniki (Thessalonica), the city to which Paul wrote two of his New Testament letters. He lived here during the winters of 49-50 AD. I want to visit the Roman Agora where Paul preached, and the monastery of Vlatadon, built on the location where Jason’s house is believed to have stood and where Paul stayed during his residence here.

9. Istanbul. The Hagia Sophia, one of the most unusual and amazing churches of all time. And the Topkapi Palace. And the hippodrome.

10. Ephesus, in present-day Turkey, the marble city where Paul spent three years of his ministry. I want to see the ancient Agora where Demetrius, the silversmith, sold his silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis and enter the Great Theater where Paul spoke.

(To be continued)

20 Places I Plan to See Before I Die (Pt. 1)

Toward the end of every year, I spend some time planning. Some people make New Year's resolutions, I use that occasion to revisit my one-year, two-year, three-year, and lifetime plans.

Almost two years ago, I realized that some of my lifetime plans were getting more unlikely the older I got. So I determined to track out what a realistic timetable would be for the accomplishment of some of the more challenging plans. I had to eliminate only a few (like hiking the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end; even doing it a week or two at a time, it's just not gonna happen, as I've only hiked about a half dozen miles of it to date, and it's over 2,000 miles long).

But with some careful planning, praying, and saving, I do think it's possible (if I don't die before my 70th birthday) to see these twenty places before I die:

1. Petra. A long-time desire will be fulfilled when the lovely Robin and I (and a group of twenty others) begin our 2010 tour of the Middle East in January with a visit to Petra, the ancient capital of the Nabateans, in present-day Jordan.

2. Israel. In a little over two months, I will be singing the words of David, "Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:2). I can't wait. There is no city like the city of our God, the mountain of his holiness. And there is no land like Israel, the land of Jesus and the prophets and the patriarchs. It will be our fourth trip to this awesome place.

3. Cairo and the Pyramids. Our January/February trip to the Middle East will include a weeklong extension to Egypt. I'm so excited!

4. The Nile, and Luxor. We will see these ancient sights in February 2010.

5. Germany. Due to a speaking invitation, we'll be able to journey to Germany next year, and do a little touring before or after.

(To be continued tomorrow)

Oh What a Night

Spending time with my family is the most enjoyable and restorative part of my life, I think (along with prayer and worship, I guess).

Last night was a case in point. Aaron and Nina and the kids stopped by to pick me up (Aubrey and Robin had been out having fun all day), and we drove to the Streets of West Chester, where we met Kevin and put our names in at Bravo Cucina, one of our favorite restaurants.

While waiting for a table, we walked to the Barnes and Noble store and had a blast watching Miles and Mia play with the trains and stuffed animals in the children's section.

Then we enjoyed a sumptuous meal (I had Chianti Braised Beef Ravioli with sweet potato) and luxurious company...

Like my son Aaron (left) and son-in-law Kevin, the two most important men in my life.

And coloring with my grandson Miles, who loves it when I draw and then he can destroy my drawings. I think he's trying to tell me something.

And nothing beats listening to the conversation around the table while holding my sleeping granddaughter.

12 Churches I've Called Home

It is such a blessing and privilege for me to worship in, grow in, serve in, and pastor Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio. I say it often, and I mean it, that for all the wonderful people I've worked with over the years, Cobblestone is the finest group of God's servants I've ever known.

But it has been my honor and joy to belong to 12 churches over my lifetime. And, while my plan is for Cobblestone to be the last church I ever belong to, the church that will bury me (take it any way you wish!), it is worthwhile to reflect back and honor all the churches that have had standards low enough to accept me as member (and sometimes pastor):

The Salvation Army Citadel, at 114 E. 8th Street in downtown Cincinnati, was the first church I ever knew, from my family's arrival in Cincinnati when (I think) I was just months old until the Spring of 1967. It was also my mom's workplace during that time, as the home of the SW Ohio and NE Kentucky divisional headquarters, where she worked in the finance department. The upper floors also provided emergency housing at various times in its history. It was probably on the second floor of this building, in children's church led by Mrs. Reed, where I first knelt and prayed for salvation.

The Salvation Army Cincinnati Citadel at 112 E. Central Parkway. In April 1967, my family's home church moved almost exactly four blocks north to this location at 112 E. Central Parkway in Cincinnati, a location which (like its predecessor) was both the home of the Citadel Corps (church) AND the divisional headquarters. We were found here for Sunday School and Holiness Meeting (Sunday mornings), often breakfast for street people, Salvation Meeting on Sunday nights (sometimes street meetings in Over-the-Rhine), Band and Songster (choir) practice on Wednesday nights, I think, as well as many other times as well. I got into plenty of trouble with the encouragement of friends like Chip Nance, Glenn Bunton, Jere Schramm, Debbie Bearchell, Cathy Kirby, Bob Bender, Doug Burr, and others. We worshiped here as a family from 1967 until June 1971....and then again (though just me and my father by that time) from January 1973 through 1974, I think.

The Salvation Army Carondelet (now Gateway Citadel) Corps. From the summer of 1971 through December 1972, this was our church, where I most often attended in the company of my Aunt Shirley, Uncle Walt, and cousins Ed and Lynne. The most vivid memory of that time was my involvement in a singing group called the Metro-Aires, and my role as "Murph" in the production of a musical called Natural High (it was the breakthrough I needed to finally talk my mom into letting me grow long hair!). For most of our St. Louis sojourn, however, my mom was battling cancer, and she was finally promoted to Glory in September 1972. Just a few months later, my father and I moved back to Cincinnati.

The Salvation Army Cumminsville Corps, 3917 Spring Grove Ave., Cincinnati. Sometime after returning from my second summer working at Camp Swoneky (1974), I transferred my soldiership from the Cincinnati Citadel to the Cincinnati Cumminsville Corps. Not for spiritual reasons, or any sense of God's leading--only because that was where the lovely Robin (whom I had been dating since mid-June of that year) worshiped and served. Never regretted it. This corps (which since about 1980 has been the Northside Health Center) was my church home until Robin and I were married and left for Findlay College (now University) in 1977.

The Salvation Army, 301 Center St., Findlay, Ohio.While I was attending Findlay College (now University) in Findlay, Ohio, the lovely Robin and I rented a drafty old house directly behind this corps building, where my brother and sister-in-law Don and Arvilla were corps officers. We expected to enter the Salvation Army's School for Officers' Training in the Fall of 1978--which we did--so we knew it would be a short sojourn in Findlay. Still, it was wonderful sitting under Don and Arvilla's ministry, getting to know our three nephews and niece a lot better, and worshiping with Chuck and Cindy, Bertha, Fred and Opal, and many others.

The Salvation Army School for Officers' Training, Suffern, New York.Though strictly speaking, it wasn't our church but our school, we did enjoy many lofty times of worship in the chapel here at SFOT during our training period (1978-1980), as well as on field training and on campaigns in Dover (NJ), Patterson (NJ), Spring Valley (NY), Manhattan, Providence (RI), Newport (RI), Portland (ME), Albany (NY), and White Plains (NY), among others.

The Salvation Army, 228 W. Hubert Ave., Lancaster, Ohio. The lovely Robin and I were ordained in 1980 and commissioned as lieutenants to our first Salvation Army church in Lancaster, Ohio, where we served and worshiped from 1980-1983, and fell in love with so many wonderful people: Marguerite, Charles and Mary, Bob and Gertrude, Georgetta, Debbie, Diana, Candy, Michael, Stefanie, and oh so many others.

The Salvation Army, Cincinnati Temple (now Center Hill) Corps, 6381 Center Hill Ave., in Finneytown. In July, 1983, the lovely Robin and I (now with our two children, Aubrey and Aaron, who were born in Lancaster), reported to a new assignment in Cincinnati--the new location of what HAD been the Cumminsville Corps (our home church of just a few years earlier). We pastored here from 1983-1987, and were blessed by innumerable relationships, too many to mention (but you know who you are).

The Salvation Army Montclair (NJ) Citadel, 13 Trinity Place, Montclair, NJ. When Robin and I were transferred by The Salvation Army to National Headquarters (then in Verona, New Jersey) in 1987, for the first time in our married lives we had the opportunity to choose which of many fine Salvation Army churches in the area to make our church home. We landed at Montclair, where we enjoyed fine fellowship and outstanding worship and preaching from 1987-1991 (though it didn't look like this back then, as they've recently dedicated a beautiful new corps building).

The Salvation Army Youngstown Citadel, 1501 Glenwood Avenue, Youngstown, Ohio.The lovely Robin and I arrived in Youngstown in August 1991, and immediately jumped into one of the most intense and rewarding ministry times of our lives (though it nearly killed us!). Our short ministry in Youngstown (which ended in July 1992, when we moved to the area where we now live) knitted our hearts with lifetime friends like the McGuire family and Janice Sanguinetti and Mrs. Knickerbocker and many others, for whom we can never thank God enough.

Oxford Bible Fellowship, 800 S. Maple St., Oxford, Ohio. From late 1992 into the early months of 2000, we were privileged to worship and serve in a great church on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. We owe much spiritual growth and many lasting friendships to our 7+ years as members of OBF.

Cobblestone Community Church, now worshipping at The Loft, 4191 Kehr Road, Oxford, Ohio. On September 10, 2000, in the auditeria of Talawanda High School in Oxford, we began meeting for worship with friends who were excited about launching a new kind of church in the area. On April 8, 2001, Cobblestone Community Church was officially and publicly launched with 217 worshipers in attendance. Four weeks later (May 6), the Sunday celebrations were moved to Talawanda Middle School, where they remained until The Loft opened, at 4191 Kehr Road, on November 16, 2008. As I said above, Cobblestone is the church I hope to die in (and there might be some who are anxious to hasten that day!). From my perspective, it is a body of people worth dying with, and dying for. Praise God.