Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Monday, December 27, 2010

White Christmas no dream


On the very day! If you ever notice, the song, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" takes place in Beverly Hills, LA. The verse lead into the familiar part of the song specifically says that. Well I am no longer dreaming because we experienced the storybook reality here in Chattanooga, TN. It was almost as dramatic as the timing of the snowfall in the movie. About six in the morning the flakes began to fall, and they kept falling gently and steadily until we had four inches. It was gentle enough to make piles of snow on posts and branches. Our time with the family was idyllic.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why do you need Jesus?

My friend and fellow OPC minister, Tom Champness, preceded me in the pulpit of Grace Church, Modesto. One of the members there told me how Tom once asked the congregation, "By show of hands, how many of you consider yourself to be a sinner?" The response was unanimous. They knew the scripture that says "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." But Tom was not satisfied. He then asked, "Who considers himself to be a dirty, filthy, rotten sinner?" Only a few people were willing to raise the hand at this. Not all of them realized that in God's eyes these questions are identical.

And it is precisely that reason that I need Jesus. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. His death on the cross is designed to cleanse the filth of sin. His atonement paid the price of sin in our stead. Jesus said that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

But just how can we invite dignified people to join our church if we are calling them filthy sinners? We can't win people over by insulting them. The great temptation we have learned from the salesman model is to modify the packaging of the appeal to outsiders, so that coming to Christ will be more attractive. Repentance is just too negative a package.

Here in Memphis there must be a dozen mega churches that have a more or less reformed affiliation. It's a cultural phenomenon that I have not experienced any other place on the face of the earth. The tragic disappointment for me is when I find one or more of these churches have slipped on the temptation to dress the gospel in a more saleable package. I attended one of these churches only to find that the message was that we need to come to Christ because of our problems. It was almost said that we need him because of our sin, but the message fell short. Not only was the word "repent" not heard, but the concept was not clear at all. I came away with the impression that people were invited to come to Christ because he makes it easier to live life here below. He helps us face difficulties. He comes to us personally and never leaves his own. God with us is a wonderful experience.

All these things are true and wonderful. I suppose the appeal is legitimate, but not without the mention of repentance. John came to prepare for the Messiah, and his message was to "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." Jesus' first recorded message was identical. Was the gospel actually preached? I am hard pressed to say that it was. Am I being too picky? Is it not possible to invite people to come to Christ without belaboring the point of being a sinner?

Friday, December 17, 2010

We found Groom

Travel can be far more fascinating when you stop more often. Case in point: Barbara's doctor who did the knee replacement, advised her to stop every 90 minutes to walk and stretch because she is still recuperating. We didn't actually keep a perfect schedule, but we did stop within two hours of the last rest, and it made for some interesting experiences.

Sometimes 90 minutes pass and there are no appropriate places to get out and stretch. The other day in Texas, for example, the wind was whipping us at gale force (or nearly). The car was dancing on the highway, and the only "rest" stops along the interstate were picnic areas. We tried one, but I wouldn't let her get out of the car for fear she would be blown over. The alternative was to pick the next town and drive in to find someplace.

That place was a town called "Groom" Texas. The population was something a little less than 600 people. Not all roads were fully paved, but what appeared to be main street was. It made Barbara remember "Bridgewater, SD" the town she escaped following her high school graduation. There is a special charm to a small town that can only be found there. The friendliness of the people is so un-contrived and winsome. While there may also be a special terror in such a small town, it is of no concern to the brief visitor. The young teen who was laying out rugs from the market and sweeping them, greeted us like we could have been favorite relatives.

As we slowly struggled our way up the block and back to the car (remember our purpose was to walk and stretch), a balding middle aged proprietor came out of the local emporium, greeted us, and offered us the calendar his business distributes. He knew we were new in town (in a town that size everyone knows everyone who belongs there), and I'm not sure but what he wanted to check us out to be sure we were not there for some nefarious reason. But he too was so neighborly that we were overwhelmed with the gesture.

I'm so glad to have the calendar because I do not want to soon forget this little piece of small town pleasantness, and I can be reminded all next year whenever I look at this calendar.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Those Texas Rangers

They ride speedy crossovers now instead of fleet ponies, but they are just as vigilant as ever. My son, Calvin, warned me about the sneaky speed traps on Texas highways. He claims that small towns count on tourists for much of their revenue by suddenly decreasing the speed limit, and then posting rangers at those strategic places to nab unsuspecting motorists who simply remove the foot from the accelerator and let the car slowly coast down to the posted speed. Between the first limit sign and the compliance of one's vehicle several hundred feet of road will find you inexcusably moving at excessive speed. Since uncle Fred is the judge there is no point in appealing.

I think his imagination was getting the best of him again, so I set my cruise control three or four mph over the posted limit like all cool California drivers do. Sometimes (on long trips, for example) we tend to go as much as 5 or more miles over the posted limit, hoping that a display of cool demeanor and otherwise careful and courteous driving habits will dissuade the officer from actually administering the costly citation.

We told our son that since we were taking the interstate highway, there would be none of those small town shenanigans. But today, as we cruised through the Texas panhandle region, one of those diligent gendarmes nabbed me. We were courteous. We had license (without recorded offense). We had proof of insurance. We had valid registration. He must have noticed that we were California cool, and he was especially impressed that we were on a mission to visit the "kiddos" (his term), he issued only a warning citation. We thanked him and continued on our way. Only now this same woman who had been coaxing me in other states to get us there as quickly as possible, now was ragging on me for the least overage. The speed limit is a generous 70 mph, and we made it to the border at 69.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Did you ever think that Jesus' mother got a bad rap? Think yourself in her position after the shocking announcement by the angel. When her pregnancy was disclosed, who really believed her? The Bible tells us that even her pending husband was sure she had been unfaithful. He was planning to get rid of her privately.

Come on now, if your daughter says to you, "Daddy, my pregnancy test was positive. I've tried it a second time. But I've never had intimate relations with any guy." "Yeah, right! And did you see any pigs fly today?" Two thousand years ago they knew about the birds and the bees. It took a special revelation from God to turn Joseph's mind, and presumably he was the one person who trusted her most.

When the angel explained the details of her virgin pregnancy Mary submitted herself to the Lord's will with humble praise. She was truly a pious chick. But what about the neighbors? What were they whispering behind the hand? At her cousin's home it becomes apparent that Elizabeth was on board with highest honors for cousin Mary. And Mary erupted with praise to God, her Savior, mentioning that all generations will call her blessed.

Unfortunately we protestants have over-reacted to the Roman Catholic Church who are coming ever closer to worshipping Mary (the last thing she would have desired then or now). So when we hear the phrase, "The Blessed Virgin Mary" we react in revulsion. We would never use that phrase, and yet Mary anticipated that it would be appropriate down through the ages, and she was right.

At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus said something that sounds a little like a rebuke to Mary. She tells Jesus that the embarrassed couple had run out of wine, and Jesus responds by saying something like, "Lady, what business do we have with each other?" Maybe we don't get it, and maybe he is reminding his mother that in the miracle business He has no assistants. At any rate humble Mary simply tells those waiters to do whatever He tells them.

When we get to the little band of disciples gathering after the ascension of Christ, there is Mary among them. She had learned long before this that Jesus, even though He was her son, is her Lord and Savior. It must have taken amazing mental and spiritual gymnastics for her to understand her place, but, young as she was, remember Mary was always keeping these things and pondering them in her heart. She is my sister in Christ, and she is a wise and wonderful one. Let's give her all the honor that is appropriate.

Three cheers for the blessed virgin Mary!

Monday, December 13, 2010

First vacation crisis

Last minute packing can be a hastle. Ours was no exception. When we were an hour later than we proposed to leave I was cramming the last box of stuff we simply "had" to include into the back seat of the car. Oh, oh, I need to straighten something on the other side of the back seat. I'll just walk around and take care of it by opening the door on that side of the car. Here, I'll just shove it in a little. "Crunch, wham!" Oh no! What was that? The box I had just crammed into the other side of the car was at the other end of my push. It fell to the ground upside down. Of course there was no top to the box. That would have protected at least some of the contents from spilling out on the ground. Now I am crabby. I am jamming the "essential" garbage back into the box and back onto the other boxes on the back seat. Oops, there's a Hershey's Kiss that rolled under the car. Forget it. I am in no condition to be getting on my ancient knees just to retrieve a stupid piece of candy. Let the neighborhood scavengers find it.

It was only after we arrived at Donna's house in Lake Havasu City, AZ, that Barbara asked me to get her partial that she had packed in that box. Yes, THAT box. Even though the box was not large, I searched it twice, and a couple other boxes just for good measure. It was not there. The roof of her mouth was irritated by this set of teeth, so she sealed them into a small Tupperware container with a little mouthwash. She installs them when needed, but they were not there this time. The Tupperware container was round. When the box fell in the driveway, it had rolled all the way out to the curb. I don't remember feeling a thump when we pulled out of the driveway. I'm reasonable certain I didn't run over them. Hey, today is the day the street sweeper comes. I don't really want to follow that scenario.

We called our sweet granddaughter, Stacy, and asked her to go to the house and see if that is what actually happened. In the car our four year old great granddaughter, Lilly, asked her mom, "Where are we going?" "To Papa and Nana's house." Lilly knew we were gone so she asked, "Why?" "Because Nana dropped her teeth." "How?" "Her teeth come out." At this, Lilly threw her head back, smacking her forehead with her hand, and dramatically sighing, "Ooooh!"

Sure enough, the container was there in the gutter. The street sweeper had not yet visited. Thanks to Stacy's help, the teeth are headed for our next visitation station: Bobby, Lori and the kids in Memphis. They tell us, "If it fits, it ships" and it did.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Quick healer

The physical therapist told Barbara she needn't make any more appointments. She can bend her knee 120 degrees, and almost completely flat (the other direction, of course). She had back to back appointments today, so she saw the surgeon too. Although he admitted that he didn't remember her knee because he has done 30 knee replacements since then, he too was impressed with her movement, and gave us license to ravel to Tennessee next week. She was kicked out of PT with her first knee replacement in a remarkable 3 weeks. Well, she did it again.

The secret is that she stepped on the edge of a box top the other day and fell on her derriere. I was not available to help her up, and so she sat there pondering her predicament. "How can I get to my feet without damaging my knee?" You see, these are the problems that are pondered more often than the problem of world hunger when you become a septuagenarian. Did I say this episode was a secret? Well it might have been a secret except Barbara has no pride. She blabbed fluently to the doctor, and anyone else she has been talking to about her knee. When I finished my important business and finally entered the room, there she was sitting awkwardly on the floor. After she assured me that she was not hurt, I tried to lift her from the floor, but I'm not the man I used to be. I gave it my best shot, but miserably failed. Before I could contrive a successful scenario, Barbara got on her newly replaced knee and pushed herself up with the other leg. I guess she is more healed than I realized. Now if I could just help her manage her pain a little better, I would feel like I'm worth her keeping me.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Seasons



Okay, I have to admit that I miss the seasons. Lakewood, California is not New England, but we do have some fall colors. There are several trees like the one above near our house. There is a very yellow tree showing off just a few blocks away. God's Fall paintbrush does touch Southern California modestly.

We never lived in heavy snow country, but I can remember spectacular snow storms that struck Christmas eve. Many nostalgic memories include picturesque snowfalls. Something romantic like a scene from a Christmas card forms good memories for a sentimentalist like me. Good Shepherd Chapel was our church plant in Neptune, NJ in the early 60s. We developed the popular tradition of a community Christmas eve service of Scripture readings, carols and brief sermon. It became the one time of the year that neighbors came to our little church, so we gave it our best. The most memorable of these services was the night we had a blizzard during the service. Cars couldn't get our of the parking lot. After singing "Silent Night" with candlelight at the conclusion of the service, we emerged from the church to see the silent snow covering everything in sight with its thick blanket. I remember helping push several cars out of the lot, and one car needed the help of a rope and horse who happened by when we needed him.

Of course this doesn't mean that we were better at worship that night, but it did leave a pleasant memory for everyone who pulled together through the combined beauty and ordeal of the blizzard, and worship was associated with that pleasant memory. Snow is also part of God's amazing handiwork.

I enjoyed the eastern springtime as well. The lively shade of green in new growth around us, the crocuses jumping up through the thin layer of late snow, all meant that the sharp colors of Azaleas were not long after. It was the long, hot, humid Summers that made me long to return to the left coast.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

C. W. "Chuck" Lee

My dear friend and longtime next door neighbor died September 19. I just heard this news almost by accident yesterday. Chuck Lee was a retired college professor, an atheist and a nudist. And he was easily the best neighbor I ever had. When we first moved to Carson, he was my friendly welcome to the neighborhood. Early in our relationship he came to the door in the buff and acted as though nothing was amiss. When I returned home and reported what had just happened, my daughter freaked out. She never went to his house the whole time she lived with us until the day she married.

Chuck had planted his yard to resemble a mountain meadow as much as possible in the city. Over the years his trees grew very tall, and only recently he consented to cut down the trees in the front yard. All the other neighbors had their bids for house beautiful with neatly trimmed and varying shades of green lawn. Not Chuck. Thanks to his landscaping, his yard was a veritable forest, intruding itself into this city block like something out of another dimension. His back yard included a grotto with a bench for meditation. Two white rabbits populated this yard until a hawk snatched one of them.

He didn't have a mail box. He only took his mail from a rented box at the post office. Measuring all the junk mail we received over the 26 years we shared on Jay St.I'm not sure but what he had the better idea.

Barbara enjoyed his HO model railroad that actually tunneled through walls of his upstairs bedrooms. He had created little stations that were supposed to represent early renditions of actual depots of early California.

He never used his stove. The manufacturer's cardboard sheet was still at the bottom of the oven when I saw it.

When he disclosed to me that he was an atheist, I, of course, believed God moved me there for the purpose of witnessing to him. I'm afraid I didn't do it enough, or cleverly enough, and yes, I believe God was in control even of our relationship. But now that he has died it doesn't leave me feeling very good about it. Once he told me that his daughter fell in with the wrong crowd and became a born again Christian. He said that her IQ fell by 50 points after that. She went to New Guinea as a missionary for New Tribes Missions. I could see God's irony at work here, but Chuck only saw her wasting her life.

Once I got him to came to our church when we were showing a series of films about the Christian response to Darwinism, and he was quite unimpressed. But if he needed a plumber or an auto mechanic, he always asked me if I knew of a Christian tradesman to do the job. Is that transparent or what?

He borrowed the book, "Born Again" because he was interested in the autobiography of Chuck Colson. We prayed that God would move his heart, but he returned the book in an astonishing few days. He said he skipped all the "religious" stuff.

He was always courteous and considerate. Even when we were talking about God our conversations (though far too brief) were always conducted politely. He trusted me with the key to his front door, "just in case water is flowing out of my garage while I am away" and even after we moved he insisted we keep the key "just in case."

He was not at all overweight as many of us contemporaries are. In fact he walked frequently, and at length all over Carson. He was seldom sick, and I think his death was quite sudden. He was just a year older than I, and God has given me another reminder that I should enjoy each day I spend with Him and with my wife.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving secrets

Okay, we're well past Thanksgiving now, but I've been busy. I cooked the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings for 13 people. Judging from the rave notices, I was a success. It wore me out, but it was a lot of fun. I find that I really like to cook, especially when the people I serve seem to enjoy my cooking. When meat gets over cooked, or gravy turns out lumpy or anything surprises me with a nasty taste, then cooking is not much fun.

We had turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, creamed onions and pickled beets and eggs. I guess my greatest compliment was the fact that everyone ate and raved about whatever was in their mouth.

Along the way I have picked up a few Thanksgiving secrets. The cream sauce for the little had a little Chardonnay. Mashed potatoes are greatly improved by a generous portion of cream cheese and real butter. Turkey will yield juicy white meat from the breast when it is roasted upside down. It does not have that Norman Rockwell photogenic quality, but since all the juices flow toward the breast, it is moist and delicious. We also own one of those very old and very large roasting pans with cover. It's just too big for anything other than a 22 pound turkey, and so we must store it among all our other trash, uh, stuff for the rest of the year. We are annoyingly trashy (we do resent those reality shows about hoarders). But when it comes to an item that we need, such as this roasting pan, it's very convenient to have it on hand. It holds the moisture better than anything else I have seen. This promotes the moist white meat and great base for the gravy.

The down side is the fact that I gained a few pounds on the leftovers. So it's back to the veggies for me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shuffling along

Barbara was told by a friend that when she had her first knee replacement surgery she said it hurt so bad that she would never have the other knee done. She didn't remember saying that, but today she understands why she said it. I asked her the other day if it was worth it, and without hesitation she shouted, "No!" Just now I asked her again, and her answer was, "I don't know. Right now it's throbbing." Although she was up and around today, as we spoke she was lying back in her Lazy Boy. But I heard her tell someone today that her pain is a little diminished.

From My perspective she is doing famously. Her physical therapist raves about her progress. She is able to lift her leg, and hold it in the air. She now bends her knee 90 degrees. Last time she discovered that she would be released from PT when she could bend it 120 degrees (which she did in 3 weeks). She had her surgery just 10 days ago. We all think she is making amazing progress. She is my hero.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Skateboards

As I waited for a traffic light to change today, I noticed a teen-ager on his skateboard maneuvering the intersection. He was careful. I could tell because of the way he alertly glanced toward each lane of potential traffic as he crossed with the signal from East to West, and then (because as yet there was no flow of traffic either direction) he crossed from North to South and down the street. Had he no board he would need to be jogging at least to make that distance in equal time. So I pondered the compared health factors between the good exercise of jogging which he was avoiding, and the coordination skills and sheer athletic ability required to propel his board as smoothly and as efficiently as he did. Maybe it was a trade off, and since the board was obviously more fun than jogging, I suppose he was on the right track.

Now when I was a kid, skateboarding meant something else. There was no such thing as the commercially manufactured boards such as I saw today. We had roller skates--you know the kind with 4 wheels on each foot. The insane invention of in-line skates had not yet been perpetrated either. When our roller skates began to get worn and we were begging our parents for a new pair, we used the old pair to make skateboards. This was usually a scrap 2x4 and an orange crate. The local grocer had oranges delivered to him in wooden crates. They may have been 24" by 36" or somewhere thereabouts. We nailed these crates to the 2x4 as a front grille of the conveyance. The 24" side of the crate was nailed flat to the 2x4, with two smaller pieces of wood attached to the top diagonally for handle bars. Since these skates were made to come apart into two sections of tandem wheels, we simply nailed one section under the front portion of the 2x4 and the other section to the rear. That was a skateboard when I was a kid.

Today there are many sizes and shapes, and I suppose there are custom made models as well. My granddaughter used a longboard. I've observed many different sizes and composition wheels. They are all much more silent than our old skateboards, I'll have to admit. And when I see x-games with jumps and twists on the half pipe, my mouth drops in amazement. I cringe at tricks that have gone afoul, such as riding a hand rail pipe, and falling to the crotch, or when a curb or stone suddenly removes the board from under the feet of a speeding rider and he loses skin.

I remember my son used to ride around his base in the Air Force on a skateboard. He carefully read the rules, and determined that he did not need to salute officers when he was in transit with some sort of conveyance. Although those who wrote the manual may never have anticipated this scenario, he found this a legitimate way of tweaking the nose of authority, which has always been his favorite amusement. Ya gotta love him.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ouch! That smarts.

Yeah, Barbara is thinking something like that these days. She came home last Thursday, and baring a torrential rain (which is predicted) she plans to struggle into church tomorrow. She says it is more painful than she remembers from the first knee replacement.

But you ladies know how the Lord prevents accurate remembrance of the pain of childbirth. All I know is that Bill Cosby says it is like taking my lower lip and lifting it up over the top of my head. I don't know that he is an expert on labor pains, but I got the picture lasered into my imagination.

She is walking a little better each day, and even getting into her own bed. She is already taking AVON orders, but piano lessons do not begin again til next week. She is a tough lady, and right now she is my hero.

The Physical Therapist visited once already, and he was amazed at her progress. He has three other cases of the same surgery, and he says she is ahead of the others. She can already bend her knee 70 degrees, and the nearest to her can only bend his knee 50 degrees.

You go girl!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dangerous Hospitals


We all know about antibiotic resistant germs that tend to lurk about hospitals, but that was not the theme I had in mind. Neglect and mistaken drug dispensing are also dangerous, and not unheard of during a hospital stay. But we prepared for that by keeping a presence in Barbara's room as much as we could. There are other dangers the consequences of which may seldom be fatal, but they are very annoying. We experienced some of them this time.

On the first day after her surgery, I called from home fairly early in the morning and got the busy signal. Okay, someone from back east must have called. When I tried again later in the morning I got a ring. The ring continued until I was imagining a scenario where the doctor was visiting and giving her some important information, or she was out walking with the physical therapist, or she was whisked away to the ER or something else equally dramatic. After the third vain call attempt, I called the desk of the third floor and tried to explain my problem. Evidently I did not communicate clearly enough because all he did was connect my call to the line to Barbara's room, the very line of which I was complaining. The results were the same. Plenty of ringing, but no answering.

Needless to say we (our daughter and I) jumped into our clothes and drove over to see for ourselves. We found Barbara moping because she had not heard from me (or anyone else). I explained the situation, and housekeeping began to work on the problem. After trying two other phones and discovering it was possible to call out, but incoming calls still did not make the phone ring, housekeeping put a call in for the telephone expert. When he came and shared his superior wisdom, he unwrapped a brand new instrument, mumbled something about these being cheap trash, and installed a phone that actually worked.

There was a machine that pumped leg pouches to encourage circulation and prevent clots. On the second day it stopped working. Donna noticed this and told the nurse, but nothing happened. Since we were there for just a case as this, we made sure that it was finally fixed.

The nurses all were very sweet and caring-even Sergio and Florante, her male nurses. They assured Barbara that when she need a Demerol shot she only needed to push the call button. You may have already guessed that that was not working either. Again my presence helped to cure the problem post haste. It seems the cord was not plugged into the wall. The connection was similar to the kind of connectors that a monitor uses to talk to the computer. And it was barely fitting in its connection junction. After that, every time she wanted to call the nurse, I had to look above the door in the hallway to make sure the light was lit.

Over her knee, with its 18 staples (yes, I counted) there was another pouch through which ice water was pumped to minimize the swelling. Then a hospital gofer came to install the bar over the bed with the dangling triangle so Barbara could pull herself up when she tended to slip down toward the foot of the bed. He had leaned some of the poles of this contraption against the bed, and one of them fell to the floor. But instead of hitting the floor with a clang, it struck the ice water pump at the exact point where the hose is attached, broke the hose and spilled water all over the floor. I now see why so very many towels are used in the hospital. He grabbed about four or five of them and just tossed them in the puddle. Providence made sure that another machine was readily available, and eventually the pump and the bar were successfully installed.

Just imagine: this was all during one brief hospital stay!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Under the knife



I used to be in awe of my mother who experienced so many major surgeries. She even "died" on the operating table once. In that moment of our surgical history, death was determined from the time the heart stopped beating. That is how she "died". With a shot of adrenalin directly into the heart muscle, it began beating again. The extra drama of the event was the fact that the needle, when withdrawn, was missing the tip. To her final dying day we suppose she carried that tiny piece of surgical steel all her life.

Well I guess we have learned a lot more about measuring death, and a lot more about surgery too in the seventy years since then. Now we don't face surgery with the same fear that used to dominate. My mind is wandering this direction because of my sweet wife's impending surgery come Monday morning. She is having her second knee replacement. She will then have two bionic knees, and perhaps be able to run circles around me. She's not particularly interested in running circles, but in removing the constant, and increasingly excruciating pain that every step gives her just now.

On the other knee she toughed it out to finish PT in just three weeks. When she could bend her knee 100% her therapist told her to get out. "I don't want to see her again." Others in her group were congratulating themselves for the progress they had made in 3 months. Barbara felt embarrassment at her unusual success because she necessarily made the others envious. Now she expects to do the same work and get the same results. I hope she is right. But at least this means she will enter the surgical theater with a positive attitude, and I know that goes a long way.

We have both experienced problems with our hospital care givers, and so I am planning to hover over her with TLC. I am already planning to smuggle in some real food, as well as make sure they are giving her the pain medication the doctor ordered.

Our daughter made the final move to Lake Havasu today--in fact as I write these words. After unloading the final shipment of household goods, she plans to return Monday to sleep on our couch and help me in my hovering project. She is a wonderful daughter, and genuinely compassionate. She may do a better job than I, but I will give it my best effort.

Since my wife will be the only thing on my mind, I'm sure that will be the subject of my next post, so if you are interested, stay tuned. If not, please be patient until I return to some other strange recollection or offbeat musing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Smoking

Did you know that tobacco was the first successful commercial product of the settlers in the new world? It was the Plymouth Company of England that financed ships that populated the new world, and they expected a saleable product to export in return. Turns out that they were all failures until the Indians taught them how to grow tobacco.

We've come a long way since then. I'm old enough to remember smoking ads on the radio, then later on TV. I remember the weekly "Lucky Strike Hit Parade", a top radio show that performed the top ten selling recordings for the week. They featured great singers to perform the most popular songs in the nation. This was sponsored by a tobacco company who manufactured "Lucky Strike" cigarettes. I remember how every movie that employed the most popular movie stars featured them as heavy smokers. In fact the drama of lighting up and taking a long drag formed important scenes in almost every one of them.

Then came the report of the Surgeon General of the United States that declared the link between smoking and lung cancer. An elder in our church quit his habit about that time, and when I asked him, he said he did not quit because of the report of the Surgeon General. He said that he discovered that tobacco had a grip on him. He said that it was controlling him, instead of the other way around. His conscience bothered him about being a slave to anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

But the climate began to change at that time. That was long ago, but I am old enough to remember all this. Peer pressure usually got teen started because they wanted to be cool. Our club was called the "Meridians" and we thought we were extra cool because instead of smoking cigarettes we each had a pipe. I also remember the night I tried a hunk of chaw (chewing tobacco). It filled my mouth with a sweet juice that seemed to draw an extra flow of saliva, and before I could get outside to spit I had swallowed a lump. I was so sick my face must have been green. That was the last time I ever put tobacco in my mouth. Well there was one other time. I smuggled a cigarette from my mom's purse so Barbara could see what she was missing. She hacked and gagged (as I knew she would), and her curiosity was more than satisfied.

Now I hear that the legislature of California is considering banning smoking from any public place--indoors or out. It is now cool NOT to smoke. Yes sir, we have come a long way.

I actually heard my Urologist say that I had a beautiful bladder. He explained that smoking actually scars the lining of one's bladder, and I do not smoke. So when he inserted a catheter camera into me, he felt compelled to remark about my "beautiful" bladder. You may think this is weird. But my doctor is a bit weird.

The Best Start

A friend of mine recently died, and at the viewing (I hate this mawkish tradition) I was talking with a girl who cared rather deeply for my friend. She was telling him during his last days that he was going to be a grandfather. She was comforting and encouraging him as best she could. The problem is: his son, who is soon to be a father, isn't married. Apparently this girl did not have a clue that this might be a problem. I know for me the news was a grief. This boy only has seasonal work, and I don't even know if he plans to marry the girl. If I were that soon-to-be-grandpa, this news would have disquieted my soul. What she wanted to convey was, "Isn't it a joy to know that your progeny is proceeding to another generation." But I would have heard her say, "Your son is engaging in fornication. Isn't that wonderful?"

Then I picked up the paper only to see a headline that declared, "72% of black babies born to unwed mothers". We used to derisively call them bastards. But that was unfair. The child is the only innocent party in this type of procreation. These young parents are simply reflecting the style of our media role models. When movie stars and sport celebrities unashamedly announce the arrival of a new bastard, we do not wag our fingers to shame, but relish the "happy" news!

Raising my voice against the praise of lasciviousness makes me the bad guy. Of course my opinion is quickly dismissed as passé, and if I am excused for holding this archaic opinion it is only because I am patronized as an old duck with strange beliefs. What has happened to my culture is called the evolution of social sin. So what is it that separates our sexual practices from that of a pack of dogs? Please refresh my memory.

It's not just that we believe in marriage (and have enjoyed the institution for 52 years). I'm not just saying, "I think my style is better than yours." It's what God had in mind when he created Adam and Eve. The apostle Paul tells us that marriage is an imitation of the loving relationship that exists between Christ and His church. Do you have to have Christian convictions about marriage to believe that bringing children into the world and helping them get a start in life is best done by a team of husband and wife? Or is it simply that so many people have had terrible home lives that they can no longer believe this? On one hand I want to rebuke my culture, but instead I think I should weep for it. Oh God, give us more Christian homes for an exemplary footnote to what we preach!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

October 31

I've been meaning to share my thoughts all week, and rather than let another Sunday pass before I make some random comments about October 31, I felt compelled to say something, even if it is not as elegant as I would like.

I am in an isolated (and insulated?) minority, because this date means "Reformation Day" to me.

Grocery markets enjoy an influx of business for Thanksgiving, but other than that it seems to escape the glut of commercialism that burdens the other holidays. Now we find Halloween rivaling all other holidays (besides Christmas, of course) for it's commercial appeal. Horror movie DVDs, candy, costumes and frightening lawn decorations are proliferating wildly in my long experience on earth. Here in Lakewood we even have a store that is named simply, "Halloween". For weeks they have paid some out of work college kid to wear a costume and swing an arrow sign with the name of this store. He stood at the corner of Lakewood and Candlewood, gesturing toward the store. The great theme parks went to great expense to hire more of these enterprising college kids to spook the wits out of the teenagers who venture there.

At least 99 people out of a hundred (probably a lot more) will tell you October 31 is Halloween. But I say it is Reformation Day! It is the eve of All Saints Day, and so it was called "hallowed even" which eventually slurred into "Halloween".

It was on that day back in 1517 that Dr. Martin Luther challenged clerical scholars to debate several propositions, all of which questioned common practices in the church. They were called "theses" and there were 95 of them. The bulletin board for posting such academic challenges was the great wooden door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. But because God had providentially prepared for it, this activity began a political, religious and social firestorm that has not yet fully subsided.

There was general unrest in the social milieu just waiting for an excuse to rebel against the politial authority of the church. There were other Bible scholars who also realized that the Bible clearly teaches salvation by grace alone. It is the gift of God, and can never be earned by works, and is never dispensed by the church. Luther was a tenacious and courageous spirit like no other of his time. Someone local just happened to be present, who translated the theses from the academic Latin into the common German of the people of Wittenberg. God further provided the invention of Caxton's printing press just in time to print and distribute these 95 theses far and wide before Luther was even aware of it.

So last Sunday, before sweet little children were committing extortion ("trick or treat"), we were being lifted into glory by the Holy Spirit, speaking clearly in Scripture. He was pointing us to Jesus, as is His promised practice. Pastor Dan Overduin read Jeremiah 5, which is about God looking for a real man of true integrity, and finding none. He developed this theme just far enough for us all to get the point that none of us can fill the role. Every man falls pitifully short. All have sinned.

Pastor Dan took us to Jeremiah 31 where the Lord promises a new covenant in which He will change the hearts of His people, call them His own, and forgive their sins. Then he showed us Jeremiah 23 where God promised a descendant of king David would be a righteous "Branch", and His name would be, The Lord our Righteousness". This is our Jesus, who is set forth in the New Testament as being in the lineage of David, and as being the righteous One who takes away our sin.

As we were being thrilled by seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the world outside our door was preparing for ghoulish foolishness.

I wish they could all see my loviing Savior instead of what they are doing.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pondering Technology

Since a very good friend of ours gave me a gift card for the Olive Garden restaurant for my birthday, we decided to use it tonight. After buckling up in our air conditioned car, we fired up the Garmin GPS locator. We asked it for Italian food, and sure enough, there was the Olive Garden. Punching "Go" we were given explicit directions by a pleasant female voice.

We've had fun musing about sarcastic versions of the GPS (maybe someone has already invented it?) or a voice with a New York accent and attitude. Your imagination can go far with this.

We easily found the eatery, and had a great meal. I discovered Venetian Apricot Chicken which was offered with veggies and cost me only 380 calories. However the potato and sausage soup added another 170. Nevertheless I kept within a weight loss limit of calories today. Barbara, not feeling very imaginative or adventuresome today, enjoyed a pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, tomatoes and olives. She didn't eat much of it, but it makes a great breakfast (or lunch).

But it is the GPS that got me thinking. The lady knows where the restaurant is located, and tells us just how to get there. Never mind that we lost satellite reception twice, briefly. I'm still in awe of the technology that is represented by this little metal box.

Then I remembered Sputnik in October of 1957. It was only 23 inches in diameter and orbited the earth every hour and a half or so. I actually could see it from my back yard in the city. If one looked for it at dusk, when the sun was just below the horizon, he could see the silver dot slowly moving across the sky. Radio news let us monitor the heartbeat of Lika, the dog that gave her all to be the first animal to orbit the globe. I remember thinking, "That is a great trick, but what a waste of money and resources just to be the first in space. Of what possible practical use could this ever be to mankind. It is just a political chest-thumping venture of the Soviets."

I could never have guessed!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Physician falibility

When we were children we worshipped doctors as gods, and they never got over it. Pardon the borrowing of terminology from an old quip about cats. The older we get (and we are really getting old), we are recognizing that doctors are real people, and people are often mistaken. When my doctor tells me to jump, I no longer ask "How high?" Now I say, "Not until you tell me why." Well, all that verbiage is just to give you a little attitude background for the brief story I want to tell.

Barbara has voluntary surgery coming November 15 to replace her other knee. Kaiser will not let her do this until she takes all kinds of tests and quits most of her pills and takes a class to prepare her for the surgery. That sounds like a good idea, but she has already been through this routine once for her right knee, and she recovered faster than anyone else who was in her physical therapy group. She thinks she knows what to expect. But you know that bureaucracy insists on herding everyone through the same hoops, even though each case is different from the others.

She doesn't mind most of the stuff they have demanded, but it becomes very time consuming.

Today her primary care physician doubled her prescription for a certain drug that will lower her blood pressure. She thinks Barbara has high blood pressure and that makes her a poor candidate for surgery. I was there to tell her that I thought she was making her judgment on too little evidence because whenever she tries the meter at home she has rather low or at least normal blood pressure (120/60 and less).

Actually we had the preliminary discussion about this the last time Barbara saw this doctor. When we assured her that Barbara's blood pressure was low or average, she immediately assumed that our monitor was defective. She asked us to bring it into the office so it could be checked. That seemed like a good idea to us, so that is what we did today.

Her medical assistant tried the office meter and knew it was false because it gave a pulse rate of 140 when by the MA's own count her pulse agreed with the portable meter we brought to the office (80). So she tried the office meter once again, and this time instead of giving us a reading, it said "E 11). She pulled out the code chart and found that E 11 said, "Internal error". She trusted the portable meter we had brought to the office and had to report the office meter as broken.

Now the doctor is trying to tell us that Barbara has high blood pressure by using a monitor that isn't working. I thought that was humorously ironic! But the doctor still likes to assume that posture of a god, dictating terms to her surf.

Now we've learned to trust the Great Physician, whose providential hands direct the fallible physician.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Garden spook


Our garden is very limited in tillable soil. Most of the back yard is cemented patio. There are two circles of soil, edged with brick, that have yielded almost all of our produce this year.

One of these circles now contains a jungle of tomato greens. There are a few green tomatoes still struggling to turn color, but at this point in the season it seems to me that we need to pull out these shrubs. The Romas were left to spread on the ground, and they did this with a vengeance.

The fauna of this region include a calculatedly diminishing population of snails, grasshoppers (both small and green and very large and brown), and some mature garden spiders. Just the other day, however, I started to reach into the heart of this jungle when I heard a decidedly threatening hiss or buzz. I quickly withdrew my hand, and began to wonder whence this spooky sound emanated.

At first I thought a Farrel cat might be down there, but quickly dismissed this idea. For one thing there was not enough room in that exact location without him making some rustling escape. It could have been a nasty opossum, but I haven't ever seen one around our new home. Then I though of a gigantic mutated killer spider, but I immediately realized that was my bizarrely dark imagination overworking. But then I was puzzled. The only realistic answer I gave myself was that it must be a noise made by the grandpa grasshopper. Have you ever experienced such a thing?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Birds, part 2

It is only fair to tell you that the former post does not reflect our total experience with birds. We also have birds around our house, and they are more friendly. We have (had?) a hummingbird feeding from our front porch. At least we used to have one. I think I made a batch of glucose that was extra rich on our first experiment. When our bird discovered it he became voracious until it was gone. You may say it was more than one, and you may be right. But those cute little beasts are very territorial, and it is just as likely that all other birds were frightened off by his intimidation. You know bullying takes place among birds too.

I have discovered that it is no compliment to tell someone that he eats like a bird. If you care to insult a glutton, maybe you want to say that, but those babies really know how to chow down. When he drained our feeder of all the liquid, I quickly refilled it with a more conservative dose of glucose. We haven't seen him since then. It's possible that he died, but it seems more likely that he got used to the "candy" I put out the first time and he is boycotting the new batch.

In our back yard we have a conventional feeder with six holes to forage for the seeds. It's fun to watch when I first mount the feeder because they really go berserk. They have no daintier appetite than the hummingbirds. You're going to ask me what kind of birds, and I frankly don't know. They are mostly grey, but some of them have a little dusting of ruby feathers in the head. I figure whatever variety they are, it is the males with the color. Isn't it always the case that it is the men who must dress with class if they want to get the woman they crave? But we were talking about birds, weren't we.

When I ride my exercise bike,the birds gather on the power lines above me and stare. I can hear them thinking, "Okay, Buddie. Hurry up and finish so we can get a meal!" Every now and then a very hungry dude will grab a few seeds anyway.

We even set out a second feeder. It's much smaller and lower to the ground. The birds never eat from this one. I was concerned that the seed might mildew or rot, so I poured them out into the open feeder, and they were promptly devoured. You don't suppose that feral cat lurks for them at the more accessible feeder, do you? Nah. They sometimes come to the ground to eat fallen seeds. I'm sure the cat spooks the birds, but he can't be in our yard constantly.

But these birds (finches? wrens?) do not meet in convention as the pigeons mentioned in the former post. I'm not afraid for gang activity here. Nor do they seem to be plotting a nefarious scheme of terrorism. Instead, they (and my thinning hair) remind me of Matthew 10:29-31.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Birds

There is a corner near our house where birds congregate. It is an intersection over which lights are suspended by corner poles with arms that reach out over the intersection. There must be 8 of these arms, and on at least two of them are perched a dozen or more pigeons. They seem to follow some strict code of order because they are spaced about six inches apart, all facing the same direction. They never randomly disperse themselves, but seem to prefer crowding onto one or two of these perches. A few stragglers are seen on other poles, but by far the main concentration is found on two of these poles/perches. The stragglers appear to be suffering a shunning discipline for some offense to the flock.

Are they attracted by electrical vibes that create an ornithological comfort zone? After all many creatures in the animal kingdom are super-sensitive to stuff of which we are not aware: magnetic poles, impending earthquakes, supersonic sounds for example.

Are they merely waiting to scavenge after careless diners at the nearby Weinerschnitzel stand? I even consulted a blog about pigeons and problems that develop from citizens attracting flocks by feeding them in the back yard. It is definitely not courteous to neighbors who would like to picnic next door.

Are they competing with one another to see who can splatter the most moving targets below? I guess we all know that it happens!

Most of the obvious answers seem to be eliminated by the fact that they do not perch on light standards that are identical to these but located at other intersections.

If people were to congregate in similar droves at the intersection they would probably be arrested for loitering. They would poise a threat to patrons of the three gas stations on opposing corners. Most of us would suspect some kind of gang activity and take our business elsewhere. But these birds seem to hang out with impunity. I think they are planning some terrorist act. Yes, I remember Hitchcock's classic movie. Now I'm sure this will play out like a Stephen King scenario. Beware of the perching, gawking pigeons. They may be agents of him who is the prince of the power of the air.

Actually it is not fanciful to paraphrase Scripture by saying, a pigeon does not perch without your Father in heaven.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Opinions about truth

I remember a cartoon where two teen-agers are sprawled on the floor with an open Bible in front of them and pencils in hand. Apparently the parent just entered the room, and the kids explain, "We already know what we believe on the subject, but we are looking for proof texts." Isn't that the trouble with far too much of our Christian knowledge? It's a tad blatant in these kids. We adults have learned to be much more subtle.

I can recall a minister who was strong on man's autonomous free will, being confronted with Romans 9 simply said, "Oh that's a Presbyterian text."

And speaking of predestination, I can say I have found that doctrine relatively easy to prove from Scripture, and I have used it to beat fellow Christians over the head for the fun of proving them wrong. I know I have a gut reaction to revival hymns like "Softly and Tenderly" when it says, "Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, Pleading for you and for me?" Jesus is the sovereign Lord. He is the God who has predestined our coming to Himself (John 6:37).

And yet I still believe it is better to let Scripture modify my theology rather than have my theology modify Scripture. Of course there is an important place for the analogy of Scripture to help us understand any isolated text. If we are reading a text that seems to flatly contradict a well documented truth of Scripture, we need to go back and read it again, asking God to show us how we fouled up the exegesis.

I guess what I have in mind is the idea of the doctrine of predestination fostering in me the notion that Jesus does not plead with sinners to come home. When I first grasped the doctrine as biblical, my concept of God briefly shifted from a loving, caring God to something akin to a giant cosmic computer, cold and calculating. A little more reading of the Bible helped me see that our God does indeed have everything planned, and that nothing can happen outside of that plan. This is a good thing. But the Bible also shows God with a loving heart, making an emotional plea for sinners to repent. "Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 18:31) And we are cast in the role of Jesus pleading when we are told, "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (II Corinthians 5:20) Dear friend, there is emotion in that text and I for one do not want to forget it. God does care, and He does beg sinners to be reconciled to Him.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hero to goat

Watching the playoffs, I felt so bad for the second baseman who made three errors in the same inning. That's enough to be engraved in the record books, but who wants to be remembered that way? My memory took me back to my baseball days once again. I was going to say "glory days", but there were far more ignominious shame days. Like the time I went from hero to goat in about 20 minutes.

We were facing a "junk" pitcher and my team preferred fast balls. I was more intimidated by fast balls, however, and seemed to have little trouble hitting curves and other squiggly things. Well, I did hit his squiggly thing into right field and it was tailing away from the fielder, so I made it to second base. I had knocked in a couple runs and my team made a lot of noise for me. It felt great to be a hero. That doesn't happen very much in the average Joe's life, you know. The next half inning I was playing left field when the other team loaded the bases and this buff looking black kid came to the plate. My center fielder was well experienced in the league, and apparently he knew something about this kid because he beckoned me to move back. I did move back several steps. He kept motioning me to move back, but I felt I was too deep already, and I hoped to be able to catch a lazy fly ball over the infield, rather than allow it to fall in which would let them score one or two runs. Then it happened. This black kid (I wish I knew his name because it wouldn't surprise me a bit if he had made it to the majors) crushed the ball and it was heading my direction. That solid sounding bat immediately tells the outfielder that he better go back for the fly. As my perspective saw the ball rising higher and higher I knew that meant that it would be way over my head by the time it reached my location. I turned my back on the infield and ran top speed, hoping to make one of those circus catches you see on baseball replays. It was a vain hope. We were playing on a field that was built adjacent to another field so that our left field melded into the right field of the other diamond. This ball landed about shortstop position on the other field and one hopped to the fence. By the time I retrieved the ball and tossed it to the relay man, all four runs scored. When the inning was finally over and I came to the bench, not a soul spoke to me. Hero to goat in 20 minutes!

Our team was Southern Pacific Railroad, and our league was dubbed an "industrial league". I'm not sure what that meant, but I think you would call it semi-pro. They tell me that some guy on this team was signed by a major league scout the year before. I had the dubious privilege to be low man on a good roster. I was what you call a utility player. I usually played second, third or outfield. Maybe I played a little short, but not much.

I remember the game when they needed me to play third. That is not my favorite position in hardball. It really is the HOT corner. Early in the game someone hit a scorcher right at me. I'm afraid I looked bad because I turned my head. After all I didn't want to mar my beautiful face. But my glove snared the ball from the ground and I threw him out. A couple innings later here comes another threatening grounder. Again I turned my head, but my hands handled that one too. Once again a nasty ground ball came bounding my direction. Once again I turned my head, but this time the ball skipped instead of taking its expected bounce and passed right between my ankles. I heard the crowd moan in unison, and I cringed. I never looked good at the position, but I was getting the job done up to that point. Now I really looked bad.

I remember when I played American Legion Baseball I made the last out of the season, and the coach cried.

My wife talks as though I was a great ball player, but it seems as though all I can remember is the gaffs. It wasn't a sterling career.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Boom!

There was panic-or at least deep concern-in the city of San Pedro this week when an explosion was reported somewhere in the complex of the Clarion Hotel. The police were called. A car in the parking structure was discovered with its glass broken out and a hole in the door. Police called the bomb squad, and because of the ever-present thought of terrorism, the hotel was evacuated. In fact several nearby buildings were evacuated and the main street that runs through San Pedro, Gaffey St., was closed down for a few blocks. The bomb squad sent their robot to investigate, and when they had determined that there were no other bombs in the car, they took a closer look. They determined that the vandalized auto was unrelated to the explosion. While owners were away someone had broken into the car and rifled through it. But it was only discovered now because of the bomb scare. At some point it was determined that someone had set off an M-80 (a giant firecracker) in the parking structure which amplified the noise. The residents were allowed to return and the street was reopened. Several of the displaced families were actually in town awaiting to embark for a Mexican cruise (on the same ship which recently hosted us on the same cruise route). A bus came to transport them to the loading dock.

The whole incident jarred my memory bank. When I was a naughty teen I dropped an M-80 into the mail slot of an apartment building, and I remember that the noise echoed in the hall to the insidious delight of this teen boy. Boys like to blow thing up, you know. Only later did I think about the human effects and hoped that I wouldn't read about a heart attack at that address.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Religion, sweet and innocuous

Yesterday I read about the blessing of the animals. In honor of St. Francis of Assisi (who spent much time showing kindness to animals) there is an annual blessing of the animals. Bring your horse to church, and he will never throw you again. What self-respecting atheist could find objection to something so innocent as blessing the animals? Surely this is not the religious activity that makes activists scream about separation of church and state. The event was held at Marine Stadium in Marine Vista Park, and no less than eleven clergy persons from various churches were on hand to convey those blessings. Cats, rabbits, dogs, a boa, a miniature horse, a bobcat, and a chinchilla all were there to benefit from religious silliness at the expense of the belittling image of religion that was thereby reinforced. Can you imagine the offense and outrage if a real Christian stood up to quote the apostle Peter who referred to "natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed"?

I thought I was finished shaking my head in disgust at the embarrassing things that are done in the name of "religion" when I picked up this morning's paper to see an article about the hundreds of people who gathered in Huntington Beach for the "Blessing of the Waves"! The surfing priest was quoted as saying, "We find that the ocean can bring people of all faiths together." How sweet is that? This ecumenism casts a very wide net. There were representatives there from the Roman Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Islamic and (get this) Zoroastrian faiths present. The estimate was that this event attracted 3,000 people.

While this was happening at the beach just a little south of us, we sat in church, hearing a simple message of how God is calling us to buy wine and milk without money in 55th chapter of Isaiah, and how Jesus fulfilled that promise. He said "If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." The rich blessing that Jesus alone can convey is not for animals or waves, but for poor lost sinners who repent and look to Him for grace. How sad that there were only a couple hundred there instead of the 3 thousand who are attracted to the surf and the tomfoolery that took place.

God always blesses his animals and gives His surf for the pleasure of the just and the unjust alike. Clergymen add nothing to the wonder of His creation by "blessing" it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A small cultural aggravation

Last month I received notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that it was time to renew my driver license. I had already done this the automatic method twice. So this time a written test is required. I remember the common sense nature of the questions they ask, but I obtained a book anyway. I immediately called for an appointment. This is a convenience that DMV provides so that I need not stand in that horrendous line the curls around the building every day. The soonest I was able to obtain an appointment was six week hence. I took it. Yesterday that day arrived and though I almost had forgotten my appointment, I arrived at the office 45 minutes early so as to have a little time to cram while waiting. But they took me early. I must say I was feeling rather smug when I stepped on the red carpet (yes, they actually have a red carpet for those who have made an appointment). While the other line curled down to the horizon (well, almost), here I was getting attention. But I soon found that this was a very special day--the computers were down! I don't mean the computers at the local office, but the DMV throughout the state of California. They weren't quite sure how to handle the situation. They did give me a vision exam, and someone even pointed me into the testing room. I breezed through the exam of obvious questions like an educated man being insulted with common sense questions, and I failed. What!? How could I fail that simple test. Boy am I embarrassed! After waiting for a while they sent me home, telling me to come back the next day with my paperwork in my hand.

Today I awakened a little after six, my sweet wife prodding me. After a shower and a little bit of cereal I was off to beat the crowd before the office opened. Okay, so much for that Idea. There was the line curling back toward the door after reaching to the end of the building. Couldn't I butt in front because I had made a reservation? I looked and found the red carpet conspicuously empty and all the people in line were headed for the only window that was open. It was labeled "appointments" but all personnel were obviously ignoring it. I dutifully waited for 65 minutes to get to the window. I was honestly thankful that my arthritis was at its minimal discomfort level, otherwise I am not sure I could have survived the hour standing in line. The next holding tank was a room with lunch room chairs and I could now sit. Everyone waited until a computer voice called his number "F014 now being served at window number one". Bingo! That's me. My thumb print was electrically recorded, my eyes tested (even though that had been done yesterday already). Now I paid my $31 fee, and I was qualified to wait in the next line to have my picture taken. Now I am thinking I understand why driver license photos are notoriously lousy. By the time the potential driver arrives at the camera he feels that he has been dragged through a keyhole, and smiling is the last thing he thinks of doing. I was determined to fool them this time. I remembered to smile and I ruined the whole game.

Next it was the written test again. Another line. The guy at the window wanted to know when I had taken the failed test. I told him "Yesterday." "But the receipt has today's date." I told him that I was here yesterday when the computers were down, and nobody knew what he was doing. "That's not very nice to say." "Well, okay, some people didn't know what they were doing, because other people were telling them what to do. I heard them. Somehow I got sent here to take the test without paying my fee." Now I was wondering if my unkind remarks were going to prejudice this tester when I brought the test back. No, I'm sure it doesn't work like that. But I had better spend a little more time with these "obvious" questions than I did yesterday. I only missed one of the common sense questions. So now I have a temporary license that will sustain me until the new one arrives in the mail. Wait, I already have a valid license until my birthday, October 21. Wait again! The way bureaucracy moves, I had better hold on to this temporary license because my valid license may expire before I see the new one in the mail. Making an appointment doesn't always work. Instead of wasting one morning I wasted two mornings because I had made an appointment on the fated day the computers were down. I remember George Carlin saying, "The computers are down? Awwwwww. Let's cheer them up!"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More Cruise ramblings



We thought it would be so nice to see Mexico and get a feel for the people and the region. When we disembarked in Puerto Vayarta, we were immediately bombarded with stall after stall of tourist items. Hats here, jewelry there, serapes and skirts and blouses, trinkets of every kind. At least they were not "made in China". But the path was paved with red brick, and the entire trail was obviously designed to attract the Yankee dollar. Since we were in the harbor, we had at least 15 propositions to take us for a water taxi, tour, glass bottom boat ride, et al. It suddenly occurred to me that we were seeing nothing of the real culture of Mexico. We could have been in Tijuana or on a Hollywood sound stage for that matter. I suppose an argument could be made that this was part of the culture--especially in places like Puerto Vayarta which so heavily relies on the tourist trade. And we did see the beautiful geography of our ports of call.

We ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant (third stall from the left) which served excellent food. We both tried fish tacos for the first time. I have often heard that they were delicious and that I ought to try them, but we never got around to it until now. Yes, and by the way, they were great. But I was most impressed by the large wooden bowl with many internal bowls of salsa. They were arranged in order by the degree of "caliente" ascribed to each. We ate more than we should (at least I did), and went back to the ship for dinner!

Oh, by the way, I have now lost four of the six pounds I gained during the cruise. I don't want to be called "Rotund Rollie".

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cruising the Mexican Riviera



Well we were not dancing (though many others were), nor did we climb the rock wall (but some enterprising 89 yr old did), but we were there aboard the Mariner of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) for 7 days. It is overwhelmingly large. When it was built it was the largest RC cruise ship afloat. One of the comedians quipped that it was like a floating city. "In fact I heard that on deck 4 there is a bad neighborhood." Just coincidentally the casino was on deck 4.

There were 14 decks in all, counting the wedding chapel way up on top. My favorite line did not come from a stage performer at all. When we were at the photo department, Barbara got out of the wheelchair (yes, she needed it for all the walking both aboard ship and when we were ashore) and stood at the counter. Since there was a lot of foot traffic just then, I decided to move the chair to a more convenient location. Now we had saved a banana from breakfast in case we needed a snack later (now that is funny). She had left the banana on the chair, and as I walked the chair to a less congested area, a female Brit, with distinctive accent, said, "Are you taking your banana for a walk?"

So we gorged ourselves with an elaborate breakfast buffet every morning. Everything from custom made omelets to a plethora of fruits to biscuits and gravy, pastries, corned beef hash, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs (with or without herbs) oatmeal, grits, etc., etc. I tried to kid myself that I would make up for my gluttony by pushing Barbara all over creation in her wheelchair. I gained about 6 pounds in that week. (But I have lost 3 of those pounds since we have returned.) Of course the assigned dining room was like a 5 star restaurant every night. When lobster night finally came, both Barbara and I had two of them. One night, when I complained that the asparagus was tough, the waiter brought me a plate full of better stalks. I wasn't going to say anything, but they come around and ask how the meal was. I just told him. When Barbara had a tough steak, the waiter wanted to bring another complete entree, but she was behaving herself with much more conservative cuisine resistance and insisted that she had had enough to eat. She only gained 3 pounds, and if you have ever gone cruising you know that is very conservative.

Stay tuned for more about the ship, and some impressions of the Mexican Riviera in the next post.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Patriot Day

I hope to see it printed on the calendar that way soon. September 11, 2001 is a memorable day, a life-changing day. America lost it's naivete on that day. Organized baseball suddenly realized they were playing a boy's game, and maybe they should give it up as too trivial in a new-found sense of sobriety. I'm glad they didn't, but I am equally glad they began the new tradition of singing "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch as well. And somehow it seems when I am watching a Yankee game, these cynical New Yorkers have grown much taller in patriotism and you can sense it when that 7th inning vocal is belted out. Have you heard the singing cop sing it? You really get the feeling that he means every word. Yes, we lost our innocence, but the new wave of patriotism that has erupted is a healthy response to the ugly attack that has brought war to our own continent.

Here in Lakewood, there was a Patriot Day Concert featuring the 300th Army Band. The appropriate dignitaries were present, and a country western singer belted out typical heartland brand patriotism. It was a great celebration of the American spirit. There was even a prayer offered, but it was offered to a god who apparently is not the God of the bible, nor the God who promises to hear prayers offered in Jesus' name. Political correctness dictates that public prayers be innocuous and generic, but has not yet extinguished the idea of prayer altogether.

Three thousand miles away there is a pastor of a tiny church who has gained international attention by threatening to burn a copy of the Quran. It seems at this juncture, that he has had a sign from God that made him cancel (or postpone) his plan. He doesn't get it. I would hope that his "sign" from God was the simple instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ, who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute and spitefully use us.

On the other hand, I find it thought provoking that Muslims on the other side of the world took this occasion to burn American flags, beating their clubs on the ground or raising their fists and chanting in cadence, "Death to America". Violence was anticipated all over the world because of this. I was wondering, would nations fear violent retaliation if somewhere there was a Muslim leader who ceremoniously burned a Bible? Would it even gain the media's attention? Can you imagine a crowd of angry Christians chanting, "Death to Turkey!"?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Watermelon

I've never tried to grow watermelon before. It looked invitingly healthy as a tiny plant at the nursery. Although I was there for other things, you might say the purchase of a watermelon seedling was an impulse buy. Now you must realize that our yard is taken up with a cement patio, a gazebo and a few hedges, and consequently there is very little space for the planting of crops. Between the edge of the gazebo and the cement patio, where I had an exotic Mexican weed removed, there seemed a sufficient space to house this tiny plant. I enhanced the soil with "Black Forrest Compost" which seemed so helpful to our happy fig tree and the flourishing tomatoes. There were two stems of the nascent watermelon, which looked promising. But in a couple of days, when I inspected this baby sprout, a disgusting snail had eaten one of the stems with fatal damage. Remedial steps were taken, and the product I had chosen made quick work of the rest of the snail family.

That one stem, however, proved to be quite virile. I had no idea how far one watermelon plant would send its runners. They are under foot. They have invaded the gazebo and the yard to the distance of 20 feet or more! I was impressed. But when we left for a week in Sedona, we asked our friend, Jennifer Kooi with her children, to water our plants while we were away, and Jen's own admitted personal pledge was that nothing was going to die for lack of water on her watch. When we left there were a few tiny melons about the size of a small plum. "How cute" I thought. And while we were away we received a report by way of Face Book that the watermelons were getting large. How large can they get in just a few days? I will be happy on my first attempt if I can grow a watermelon the size of a cantaloupe. But when we returned home we found the melon bigger than two cantaloupe. I went to the store and happened to notice that the watermelon there were all smaller than ours in the garden.

My new problem was simply, when do I know it is time to pick the thing? I went to the Internet and got conflicting advice from the "experts". Jack Harvey, our long time friend in the church, was a Nebraska farm boy. But he was no help. He said that at home they didn't plant watermelon until after barley harvest. Then when the vines began to die and subside, the whole field was populated by melons. As a boy he said they would pick one up, drop it, and then just eat the heart out of it and leave the rest. Then our friend, Fred Alexander, was passing through and he thumped the melon and checked it's belly and told me that it had plenty of water (little wonder after all the exaggerated watering it had received by Jennifer and myself) and that it was ready for harvest. Fred is a bit of a farmer from Paso Robles, so I took him at his word.

It seemed to be the logical progression of events to invite the Koois over for lunch, and ceremoniously open the watermelon for dessert. I hope the pictures tell the story.



Monday, September 6, 2010

Preaching sick

I call it "preaching sickness" but most simply call it nervousness. I've been preaching the gospel for 48 years now, and I must confess I still get preaching sickness. When I am about to enter the pulpit my thoughts wander to "how can I possibly give these dear people a message from God?" Or, "I have nothing to say" or "I just can't do this!" I don't really lose that edgy feeling fully until I begin to actually preach. Then I get lost in the word of God. I am excited about the wonderful news of God's love in Jesus Christ that I find it relatively easy to flow and gush over the pulpit and into the congregation. Then (so help me this is true) I never cease to be amazed that someone is blessed by something that came out of my mouth. I have often prayed, "Lord, you can make something of nothing, therefore bless this sermon." God used a dumb ass to speak to Baalim, and it is just as miraculous that He uses me to speak to people.

But recently my sickness was more literal. On vacation in Sedona, AZ, I was asked to preach at our mission station in Cottonwood, about 25 miles away. Before Sunday dawned, I was bent over the toilet, vomiting. I felt crummy from head to toe, and weak as a kitten. But I had a responsibility to fulfill, so off we went. Barbara had to drive the car while I dozed. I leaned on the pulpit and gasped for breath as I gave it my best effort under the circumstances. When I was finished, and about to administer the Lord's Supper, I had to ask for a chair to finish. Of course I made it a point not to touch the elements for fear of spreading the plague. I sat for a while rather than greet folks at the door, but this being a small group informality was in vogue. After being chauffeured back to the resort, I crashed for the remainder of the day. I didn't have the strength to change my clothes. Strangely, the next morning I was fine, and even a bit hungry.

That reminded me of another sick preacher I witnessed in my early Christian years. Before we were married, both Barbara and I were worshipping in our OPC in Eagle Rock, CA. On certain Sundays, when our pastor was away, we had other men supply. One of our favorites was a man named Paul Lovik. He was faithful to the word, and he was positive and enthusiastic in his manner. But on the given Sunday I have in mind, during the evening service, he had to abandon the pulpit in mid-sermon, to leave the auditorium through a side door, but he barely made it before we could hear the unmistakable gaging and splattering of him puking. When he felt he was finished, he returned to the pulpit and finished the sermon. Frankly I don't remember what he was preaching about.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aging

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all nor be afraid!"

--Robert Browning

I love those lines from "Rabbi Ben Ezra" but when I quote them to my wife, she gives me a little attitude. We both know that getting old is a bummer in many ways. When we get together with other people around our age we invariably turn our conversation to what we call "the organ recital." Aches and pains dominate so many hours of our lives.

Now there are some strange advantages. When we find ourselves watching a crime drama and realize that we have seen it before, we go ahead and enjoy it a second (third?) time because we can't remember who done it.

When I am sent on an errand to find something in the next room I've learned to say, "I didn't see it." I used to say, "It's not there." but more and more it is the former statement that is true rather than the latter.

Of course when my wife sends me to look in her purse I have to say, "Can you be more specific?" (See my blog post on "The Black Hole".) But that is another problem.

Dr. Joe Garrisi used to say, "I've been thinking a lot more about the hereafter these days. Why just the other day I walked into the kitchen and then said 'Now what am I here after?'"

Friday, August 27, 2010

Zoo trip


For our great granddaughter's birthday we treated the whole family to a visit to the L. A. Zoo. We are members of the Association, and can bring others with special passes etc. I think everyone enjoyed the trip, but as I tried my hand at the shutterbug routine, I discovered that cute animal shots are very difficult to come by. In the first place the animals are so accustomed to the habitat in which they have been placed that they know how best to hide from all those nosey humans who come gawking at them. There are holes, crevasses and blind spots aplenty for these enterprising creatures. When I see all these beautiful photos of God's beasts posted on the web, you'd better believe how much I will appreciate the patience that went into assembling this array.

Then there is the problem of feeding time. And the Howler Monkeys weren't howling. We were there a few years ago when they were yelping up a storm that was heard all over the park. Do they have a howling schedule? Does it require the right combination of aggravating guests, or something in the water that sets them off? I must do my research for that one.

I got one great shot. Well it wasn't really great, but it was a clear photo of Reggie, the alligator. He was the famed inhabitant of the lake in Molloy park here in the South bay region of the Los Angeles basin. Our friend, Donna Littlejohn, a reporter for the Daily Breeze newspaper in Torrance, was given the assignment to follow this human interest story which must have continued for a year or more before he was finally captured. Someone had owned him as a baby, but decided he was a little too big to keep and surreptitiously gave him freedom in this public park.

Now Reggie has his own pavilion and pond with his name boldly engraved above him. Here he is, basking in the sun. Can you see the smile on his face?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

About 20 years ago I wrote an article that appeared in our denominational magazine about being a grandparent. Stacy was my first grandchild, and at the moment she was born my brain developed that now notorious mush spot that all grandparents know about. She could do no wrong. She was adorable and clever and I was sure she would distinguish herself with a career as an expert mechanic in some racing crew's pit. At that time--and for several years after--her father was the proud owner of a T-bucket racing machine. This was a high powered hot rod that technically had to have some genuine model T parts in order to qualify as a T-bucket. As a teen, Stacy never forgave her dad for selling that cute street racer.

As a squirt, Stacy was compelled by some inner urge to flip every switch or turn every knob within sight. But this genetic tendency seems to have been passed to the next generation as well. Lillianna, her daughter, is compelled by the same urge. Now it so happens that this same urge accounts for the fact that this young generation has developed such comfort with electronic gadgets and switches. Yes, indeed, it was Stacy who successfully attached all the wires for our entertainment center with an independent VHS/DVD unit and DirectTV box. When we lack understanding of some application for our phone, it is Stacy who can explain it to us.


Now it is her daughter, Lilly, who wants to push every button, turn every knob and pull every switch within her view. Today Lilly's brother, David, (rug rat age) who pulled himself on my leg and reached for the remote control to the TV. I had to inform him (in soft, loving tones of course) that this was a "no, no" and had to hold the instrument with some strength against his effort to wrench it from my hand. He said, as he often does just now, "Oh, oh!" Then he proceeded to chew on his sister's soft soled sandal. I think he is still bringing in another tooth. I think guardian angels protect little ones from the snail guts, dog poop and whatever other disgusting remnants may be on the soles of shoes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sedona 2010


It's hard to beat the red rock canyon of Sedona for sheer beautiful landscape. Last time there we enjoyed a brand new apartment in the condo group Diamond Resorts calls "Sedona Summit". Our memories of this week was one of decadent loafing in pristine luxury. The only complaint we can remember was that the new sofa had such a slick surface that we kept slipping off. On the sly, one of the sales crew told us that we needed to jump up and down on the sofa a few times to break it in. I actually tried that, but I guess it must be done several more times before it "breaks in".

So we were scheduled for a different location this time, and it too was wonderful. It is called "Villas at Poco Diablo". I never completed the several courses in Spanish that I took, but I think that translates roughly into "apartments at little devil". Aside from the inauspicious name, the place was great. It was quiet and private. We were next to a shaded courtyard with trees, umbrellas and barbecue grills and brick flooring. Only once did we see someone else use the grills (and I'm sure I saw him grilling lobster tails). Our fare, though much more bourgeois, was delectable. We had planned to save cash by bringing most of our meals. But we brought steak, salmon, Cornish game hen and hamburger. Actually I made chili with the hamburger, but the others were cooked on the grill.

Immediately behind our unit was access to a gurgling creek that feeds Oak Creek. The whole area is known as Oak Creek Canyon, so you get the idea that this is a dominant feature of the waters of Sedona. Our first night there we were greeted by a visitor--a rather large frog who had come up to our back walk. Other wildlife included many nosey squirrels, a few exotic birds (at least they were birds we don't see around our home in Lakewood), and a lizzard who entered our front door and paused upon the tile of our entryway.

One little hitch in our stay was the fact that Sunday I took sick with something like a 24 hour germ--or food poisoning of some sort. Saturday night I grilled the salmon. They were rather thick pieces and perhaps they were not as done as they might have been. Barara didn't eat much so she was safe, but I devoured all of mine, including the sashimi part. The plan was to save the leftover salmon to make salmon salad sandwiches for Sunday. But after I got sick we ended up leaving the salmon salad mix in the refrigerator for the cleaning crew to snack or toss as they pleased.

Our church has a new fledgling chapel in Cottonwood, just 25 miles away, so I was engaged to preach for them and administer the Lord's Supper. I was too weak to drive, so Barbara served as chauffeur. The intern ran the service up to the preaching part at which time I rose to lean on the pulpit and deliver God's message to this small but attentive congregation. I was gasping for breath when I finished, and then admitted that I needed a chair for administering the Lord's Supper. I completed this service without touching the elements and without collapsing on the floor. When we returned to our loft in Poco Diablo, I went to bed without changing out of my clothes. I was too weak. After sleeping all afternoon and then all night, I woke up Monday feeling fine, and the rest of the week was spent with good health.

We are developing a routine when we visit Sedona (3 or 4 times there now) which includes a trip to Flagstaff where we stop at a scenic overlook that has several tables of Indian goods for sale by their creators. This time we bought a vase with hieroglyphs and a paper that explains the story they tell. BL also picked up some Indian jewelry, but she waited until we got back to town for the better price.

Another tradition is to visit the legendary town of Jerome. It is built on the side of a steep hill (mountain?). The whole road (infamous 89a) is a two lane switchback. The town was first a copper mining town, but evolved to a brothel neighborhood and then an artist's village. The artists have not left (I don't frankly know about the others), and it is now an artsy tourist trap. We ate at "Haunted Hamburger" palace with a fantastic view.

Us old folks had prayed for God's hand of blessing on our week, and He was very good to us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wedding cake for a cat

Another favorite family story:

In some ways Blondie was to me what Hobbs was for Calvin. Only my tiger was alive. Those who hate cats don't know how cool cats really are. Just like dogs, cats are quite different from one another. I was a latchkey kid before the term was invented, and Blondie was my companion. She sought me out and liked to be stroked by her friend. Or she might feel the necessity of grooming me with her rough and tireless tongue.

This episode begins with my bachelor uncle Walter. His sisters (my mother and aunties) were convinced that he would remain a bachelor all his life, but he surprised everyone and proposed to Mary Smiley. Yes, that was her name, and it seemed to be descriptively appropriate for her. She was a little older than he, and for several reasons, theirs was the wedding of the year for this family. Everyone made a big fuss over it. Everyone wanted to have a part in it.

Since grandpa Saumert was a professional baker, he was asked to make the cake. Those were post-depression days, and our stove was the only one in the family that would accommodate the large pans needed for the lower levels of the cake. Consequently grandpa did the baking at our house. A couple days before the wedding our home was filled with the lovely odors of cake baking. Grandpa carefully laid out the layers on our dining room table to cool overnight. Newsprint contained sanitary ink and so were spread over the cake layers. Well, it turns out that although newsprint may discourage germs and vermin, it was not enough to discourage Blondie. She was a house cat, and she did not sleep in my bed every night. This night the attractive smell of wedding cake cooling in the night was too much for her to ignore. In the morning it was discovered that she had tasted each of the layers, and for good measure was found comfortably curled up on one of them. My parents went berserk. The cat was banished, but the damage had been done. And tonight was the wedding!

Dad took the assignment of picking up grandpa and explaining the tragedy to him so he could plan a repair--and calm down a bit before he arrived. Grandpa was an emotional artist, and there was some fear of his reaction. But first of all, he was a professional. He rose to the occasion and immediately mixed a large batch of marzipan. He deftly filled the bitten holes in each layer, fitted the cake together, and viola! We saw nothing but a beautiful wedding cake.

Mom and I made a few knowing remarks about the delicious cake at the reception, but it was a closely guarded family secret for many years. I don't know if my aunt Mary and uncle Walt ever knew about this. If any guests were allergic to cats, it was not evident by the voracious consumption of this pastry.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Beware of dog names

While we are away for a respite at the resort in Sedona, I thought I would post a few repeats of old posts of mine. Here is one of my favorite family stories.

This is a story about uncle Speed. He told me that I should tell people that he was my "uncle Pud, my drinking uncle." I never remember him being sloppy drunk, but he liked to think he could hold more than most men who are still standing.

I remember Aunt Jean in a condition incapable of pronouncing her words clearly. So when they got a pair of yappy lap dogs it was inevitable that they named them "Whisky" and "Soda". By and by Soda met her demise, and only Whisky was left.

Well, my Aunt Jean told me this story about herself. One Sunday morning she walked down to the local liquor store to get the Sunday edition of the paper. She took the dog with her, of course. But she had mistakenly gone on this errand a little earlier than the opening of the booze emporium.

When she arrived at the door of the establishment, several other people had come early too. Soon the proprietor arrived with the key, and opened the door. Dogs can be impetuous, you know, and so as soon as the door was open just a little, the dog raced into the store like a bullet. My aunt Jean, instinctively called out his name, "Whisky!" she yelled. To which the store manager replied, "Now there's a thirsty woman!"