Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Monday, March 28, 2011

About book covers

Things are not always as they appear. In fact they are seldom as they appear. Those super toys we used to get by mailing box tops to the company turned out to be cheap and tinny. That was our first lesson. Then when Poor Richard warned us not to judge a book by it's cover, we were conditioned to believe him.

Recently we participated in Mobil's reward program. If we buy 100 gallons of gas within a couple months, they would reward us with $50. Since we had already planned to visit family in Tennessee, we signed up. Well we did buy the petrol. And we did get the reward, but it came in the form of plastic. We had anticipated a $50 gift card. But instead it was a club card that needed to be redeemed on line. Well when we went to the restaurant website, we only found obscure little dives, struggling for existence,desperately seeking new customers. So we picked a couple of the most promising establishments that were reasonably near us.

The first one we tried sounded like a charming Irish restaurant not far from our home. But it turned out to be a pub in a mini mall. Barbara was so skeptical of a positive outcome that she sent me to investigate while she stayed in the car. I meekly opened the door, only to find shuffleboard and pool tables with two toughs loitering there. But when I stepped in I could see the bar and some casual dining tables. I asked the proprietor if they were serving food, and he gave me a very friendly affirmative. So I retrieved my wife, and we enjoyed a tasty cuisine of shepherd's pie and a Reuben sandwich. We will definitely try this place again. But once again, things were not as they appeared at first.

The other place we tried as our reward had the word "bamboo" in the name. It was labeled a Hawaiian restaurant. But when we walked in, we found ourselves to be the only diners in this small place in the tenderloin section of Long Beach. The old man who tried to understand our questions was not Hawaiian, but Cambodian. What I understood to be his grandson had tuned their large screen HDTV to an episode of "Spongebob". Once again our situation was not what we had expected. We eventually ordered our food by numbers on the menu and hoped for the best. To our happy surprise it was excellent Chinese-ish fare. When the old guy's nephew returned we found him to be a well spoken and friendly proprietor.
The ultimate surprise in things not being as they appear is found in the biblical warning: "there is a way that seems right to a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Garden pests

When we lived in Modesto, we paid a nickel for every tomato worm the kids collected. It's astonishing how much they can eat in such a short time. Capital punishment for these pests was usually a toss onto the hot summer roof of the house. By the time they were baked out there was no carcass for disposal. They must have been 99.9 % water.

So far in our present home, the major offenders are snails. Pitching them into the street is a lot of fun, but it doesn't work for the culprits I find in the back yard. These perps simply get stomped. I put out snail pellets, and many of them meet their demise with slow agony. (Do they actually experience pain?) But mercy at my hands (or feet as the case may be) means the quick and messy death under my shoe.

Last year I planted my first effort at growing a watermelon. To my horror the sprout was barely visible the next day because the leaves had all been eaten, and one of the stems was severed. I loaded the flowerbed with poison overkill, and to my delight the plant even survived this horrific ordeal. In fact we grew a delicious, juicy watermelon which has been celebrated in an old blog post.

This year, among other plants, I put an eggplant in the exact same spot where the watermelon grew last year. I don't learn very quickly, however. I was again horrified to see the leaves disappeared overnight. More stomping and more poison. I'm hoping the little stalk will recover like the watermelon did, but there aren't many signs of hope as yet.

I have lettuce plants under whose leaves some snails have sought refuge, but so far they have systematically been plucked and stomped. Just before the recent rain storm I sowed lettuce seeds under the happy fig tree. I also have two tomato plants that are looking strong and healthy. One even sports two blossoms, and they both show several promising buds. Summer BLTs are already making my salivary glands pump.

I'm glad I'm not a Hindu.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Overwhelming disaster

The great earthquake and tsunami in Japan has overwhelmed more than the Japanese people. Because of the remarkable technology that places these awesome and frightening scenes into our living rooms this great disaster has overwhelmed the whole world. I know it has overwhelmed me.

One of the questions that inevitably arises is, "Where is God in all of this?" But when that question is posed, I know that the author is quite unacquainted with God. I mean the God who reveals himself in the Bible. If by the term "God" we mean the Creator and sustainer of this universe, then the answer to the question is obvious. "The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these." (Isaiah 45:7)

Unbelief lashes out against God for cruelly dashing into oblivion ten thousand people in one fell swoop. It's mean. It's the act of an ogre rather than a merciful God. I say it is unbelief that throws out those imprecations because they refuse to include the facts revealed by God in his word. "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Death is inevitable for each and every one of us. If that death comes quietly while we sleep, or suddenly when a tsunami sweeps us away, it is still grim and final. But in fact it is not final! After this comes the judgement. Death is the wages of sin. We brought it upon ourselves. It really is our fault, not God's. The only real tragedy of death is when it happens to one who faces that judgement without a savior. The Christian who is so swept away is immediately swept into the arms of his Savior. Where is the tragedy in that? Unbelief sneers at such theology, but has no explanation to offer, and so concludes that this life is meaningless. Weep for those who are blind.

But if by the term "God" you are thinking of a super being who causes good, fun, pleasant things to happen, and is helpless to prevent accidents and "natural" disasters, then you are talking about a god of human invention. He is really irrelevant to actual history. He lives next door to Santa Claus, and he has no more help to offer than his next door neighbor.

The real question you mean to ask is: "Why would God allow such devastation as the recent Japan earthquake, the tsunami and the pending nuclear pollution?" Well, there is no chapter and verse in the Bible that answers such specific questions. He calls upon us to love our neighbors and do good to all men. Just because He is God, He is not required to answer to any higher authority. He is the highest authority.

But God has made it quite clear what we are to do. He has given the church a commission to tell everyone the good news that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners. The greatest calamity that will ever fall upon men is to enter the final judgment without a savior. That is why we have sent missionaries to Japan for many years. As they have sown the seed in Japan for these many years, they have found the "soil" to be quite hard. There is something of stoic privacy in their culture that prevents them from opening up to admit fear, vulnerability or ignorance. That tendency has been witnessed by all the world through the media during this awful disaster. We saw a woman who survived several days of entrapment in a collapsed building being rescued by Japanese responders. And we have witnessed her polite bow to the crew in thanks for their efforts that saved her life. But then we learned that she was suffering the grief of having her daughter torn from her arms during the tsunami, never to be seen again. She actually had the poise and immense courtesy to bow to her rescuers while shouldering this terrible weight of grief.

But that same cultural detachment has made the Japanese people relatively impregnable to the gospel. I don't want to tell you that this whole ugly disaster occurred as part of God's plan to open hearts of these people. I would have to be God to be able to say that. But that seems to be the actual results in some cases.

Now we are hearing stories of missionaries and Christian friends who drive all night with a pickup full of bare necessities which they bought at Costco to supply churches and schools in and near Sendai, and then return to do it all over again. There are people who, in the past, had been visited by missionaries, now coming out of their homes and shelters to be touched by the love of Christ seen in these men and women who are helping them.

I know that many of us have prayed that God would open the hearts of the Japanese people, and maybe--just maybe--this is part of the answer.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I'm not into the naming of cars. We usually have a simple utilitarian attitude about cars. It's great to have a piece of transportation that gets us from here to there. That's it. The tube throws advertising at me suggesting that I should have some sort of love affair with the car they want to sell me.

If I did have a sentimental attitude, I probably would have had to name our 69 beetle "Fritz" or something German. It was the best thing Hitler ever gave us. Like the time we drove from Modesto to San Francisco with 8 people stuffed into the bug. Or the time we impulsively bought a 6 foot ladder only to realize we had the bug in the parking lot. We got home with the ladder, but at this moment I'm not sure how we did it. I think it had to stick out the front passenger side window. When we finally had to get rid of the VW (it was mortally crippled), our children never forgave us. All of them drove it one time or another, except for Phil (who never drives) and Jonathan (who was too young when we owned Fritz).

We found the bug in an ad in the paper for a reasonable price. Sometime after we bought it, during an inspection (they do that routinely in the east), we were informed that there was something bogus about the machine. The original owner's manual was in the door pocket, and it indicated more miles than what shown on the odometer. The inspectors knew what to look for, and discovered that someone had taken two VWs, cut them in half, and welded them together. One was wrecked in the front and the other was wrecked in the rear, so some enterprising shop put them together. The bogus part was that they never told us about it. Now even though we felt cheated, we were happy enough with the car that we kept it. The law put a restraining order of some sort on the shop, forbidding them to ever do this again.

When we moved from Wilmington, Delaware to Modesto, California, we had a church acquaintance drive it across country for us. We all used Fritz while we lived in Modesto. We moved it to Carson, and didn't junk it until a few years after that. That is a span well over 10 years.

Of course it was a four-on-the-floor stick shift. And when the clutch went out, we just had to push it a little and drop it in first. We were familiar enough with the whine of the engine to know just when we could slip it to second gear etc. Once when Bobby was late getting to church we found that he had a fire in the engine compartment of the bug. He was just a block away from home, and some guy digging in his yard threw a couple shovels of dirt to douse the flames. The insurance adjuster wrote us a check for the repairs, saying, "I had the same thing happen to my VW. There is a manufacturing flaw in the gas line." We got enough from the insurance company to replace all the burnt lines, and even enough to repair some other parts. The bug came out of it in better shape than it was before the fire. We need to thank God for all small blessings.

We had a Pontiac station wagon for family travels, but there was a holiday when the wagon was not working. (I had recently replaced the gas pump, and when I corked the gas line to prevent leakage during the repair, I forgot to remove the cork.) On this given day--when we had not yet discovered my embarrassing mistake--we gave the family the choice of staying home from uncle Jack's house or traveling in the VW. The bug got a unanimous vote, so we piled in like circus clowns. Phil found a space behind the back seat, somehow four kids sat on the back seat, and Jonathan sat on his mother's lap. We found it necessary to stop for stretching only once. Can you imagine doing such a thing now with the seat belt law?

Friday, March 11, 2011


It's not really a love/hate relationship. I would rather say my relationship with arachnids is more of a fear/fascination relationship. Why I'm thinking about this is that I killed a black widow in the garden today. It's not the first time I have done that. Several years back, when we lived in Modesto, we used to grow lettuce. We had some luscious butter lettuce heads in the garden. Before dinner I would pick out a mature head, lift it from the ground and tear off the roots. But on one of those occasions I was terrified to find I had almost touched a large black widow who had nestled herself between the head and the roots of this plant. I pumped a large dose of adrenalin and immediately dropped the lettuce. The spider was dislodged and I stomped it.

Yes, it was a black widow. I know those dames quite well, having done more experimenting as a kid than I should have. My mother was far too indulgent with me growing up. With her permission I had a widow in a quart jar on the mantle. Since we had a stone fireplace, it was a trifle dangerous to house her there. But when she built one of those cocoon balls for babies, mom had the good sense to order me to part with my spider. Even when I was about to dispose of her in a fire, I curiously began to open the jar, but she darted toward the partial opening until I slammed the lid back in place.

When I was a teen-ager we lived in Eagle Rock, and across the street was a detective of the Los Angeles Police Department. He had a Kojak personality, and he even resembled Telly Sevalis with his bald head. Chatting with my dad in the garage one evening, he informed dad that we had black widows in our garage. When my father denied it, Kojak grabbed a big black spider by the leg and turned her over to reveal the red hour glass marking on her belly. "Are you crazy?" my father yelped. Kojak just said, "It can't get me as long as I hold it's leg. Even if it tried it wouldn't get through the callous on my finger." He enjoyed showing how tough he was.

Oh about today: I was trying to free my fountain of a clog of grass clippings. We have a small solar powered fountain where the water is pumped to the top canister and pours out into a series of pans until it gets to the large bowl to be pumped up again. During my cleaning project I noticed webs in that top canister so I reached in to clean them out. But when I discovered these web strands to be exceptionally strong, I immediately knew what that meant. So I looked in only to see a humongous spider looking back at me. I may have touched her! It makes me shiver to think about it. I put my garden gloves on, and went back to smash her. You know, I have, on occasion, used my teeth to help pull off my gloves. I don't think I will ever do that again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Baby blessings

When our Calvin was born, Phil was already 16 months old. He didn't actually walk as yet, but he would crawl over to the tiny crib, pull himself up and reach in to touch his baby brother's head. He stroked it very gently and said, "" "Yes, Phil, that is your baby brother." We thought it was great the way he took ownership of this new intruder into our lives.

Tragedy loomed over us, however, when tiny Calvin had to return to the hospital with jaundice when he was but 8 days old. His bilirubin count kept increasing. Philip, however, didn't know what had happened, and so he crawled over to the crib, pulled himself up and reached in, only to find empty sheets. He searched with his little hand, and then looked up at us and said with a plaintiff question in his tone, "Baby?" It broke our hearts. We were skating on the edge as it was.

We had a private prayer meeting, committing our Calvin to the Lord. We admitted that he was only on loan anyway, and acknowledged our heavenly Father's right to take him if it was his sovereign will. Little did we know that God would not only spare his little life, but drag him into the ministry of the gospel. Yes, he did go kicking and screaming, as it were. We did not mean this when we had that prayer meeting. And I know better than to suggest that God mistook our prayer.

I remember Barbara driving over to the local hospital (just incidentally, it is the same hospital in which Bruce Springsteen was born) three times a day or more just to nurse her tiny, crying baby. She did this for the three straight days he stayed there. Since he had been released and re-admitted, he could not be placed in the nursery. He was in a huge adult bed and did a lot of loud crying. She would hear this cry as soon as she stepped off the elevator. I understand that a woman finds it difficult to lactate when she is under stress, and I would say there was supernatural providence to enable her to spread her mother's love so far. The doctor was no encouragement, telling her that she ought not to be nursing. "We can give him a bottle here." What do doctors know?

Just before his bilirubin count mounted to the marker for a blood transfusion, the corner was turned in his condition and the count began to subside. One doctor was convinced there was a blood incompatibility at work (AB-O is a common problem combination). But our pediatrician said he just has a slow liver which finally caught up to his needs.

That was a crisis time in our lives in which we praise God for answered prayer. A year later we began playing my boys' favorite game: Boys Climb on Daddy. My senile memory banks will probably never forget those days.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fishing one more time

Bobby had never been fishing before, and I suspect he has never been fishing since. But on one given day, Bobby enjoyed a pinnacle experience of fishing when we were yet living in Modesto. We never talk about fishing, and he has never relayed any stories of taking his kids fishing, so I am concluding that he doesn't go fishing. Of course only fanatics tell everyone about their fishing experiences (oops! Am I painting myself as a fanatic? I may be a fanatic, but not really about fishing).

One day during our time in Modesto, Brad took Bobby fishing with him to Don Pedro reservoir. Maybe it was another location, but it doesn't matter for the purpose of my story. Brad was a great friend for my children, and he was very generous spirited. He took Bobby trolling in a rented or borrowed boat. As an experienced fisherman, Brad explained how to catch bass in this lake, and he even loaned Bobby a rod and reel from his own stock. They spent much of the day out on the lake, and we were glad that he was having a good time in the company of a young man we admired very much. We knew that Brad would be a good influence because he is a sincere Christian young man. What we hadn't anticipated was that Bobby would be a source of testing for Brad's sanctification. When the day was ended and the boys returned to Modesto, Bobby had landed a record bass and Brad was empty handed.

Brad did quite a bit of muttering, but his integrity and good humor gained the best of him, and he feigned angry complaint against providential blessing that fell on Bobby and passed him by.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fishing, part 2

One of our wonderful vacations in Maine was spent in a lodge right on the banks of Owls Head bay. At the invitation of Barbara's brother and sister-in-law we enjoyed the accommodations of the family vacation cabin. Barbara's parents also joined this party. My father-in-law, the Rev. Russell D. Piper, a charming and engaging scrounge, accepted the invitation of the neighbor to spend the day on his lobster boat. He returned with eight lobsters which he "stole" for $6. They were boiled in an iron pot which had probably been used identically for 60 years or so. So here we all were, dipping lobster meat in reservoirs of drawn butter, licking our fingers, and thinking, as the bay gently lapped the shore not 200 feet behind us, "It doesn't get better than this." Our kids ate all the hot dogs they wished, and only years later bitterly complained that they were deprived of this feast.

The next day I took our three boys fishing. There were challenges against this project. Our only boat was a leaky row boat with no anchor. To exacerbate the challenge, the shore was quite rocky and the wind was determined that we steadily head for those rocks. Not to worry. There was a cut out gallon milk jug for bailing the water, and Daddy was here to protect his crew. We loaded the boat with clams for bait, and rowed out 100 yards. After a while I developed a routine. After rowing, I would bait three hooks and help my apprentice fishermen cast out their lines, usually in different directions. When that was finished, I took to bailing out the considerable amount of water we had already taken aboard. This was barely manageable, but the additional "problem" was that these fish were exceptionally hungry. I had to abandon my bailing to help the boys land each fish and then bait each hook again. By this time the rocks were ominously close. "Lines in!" It was already time to row out again. This was the kind of work that kept me busy all day. But it was delightful work because the kids were having so much fun.

Later that day Calvin asked his grandfather why he didn't catch as many fish, since he was reputed to be a great fisherman. Russ just laughed, having a good sense of humor, and not willing to explain that he was fishing for a variety that required a good deal more finesse.

When my sister-in-law treated us to a typical Maine clam dinner, steamed over an outdoor fire (with seaweed for the steam), I ate very few. It was not possible after the events of the day to associate these critters with anything besides slimy bait.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I don't really have a bucket list, but there is one thing I yearn to do before I do kick the bucket. I would like to learn the finesse of true fly fishing. I have this image of wading in the creek of a mountain meadow somewhere in the Sierras, gently laying my tantalizing fly on the waters over hungry rainbow trout. Now there is real sport in that.

Oh I've been fishing many times. As a kid my parents used to take me to June Lake when there was only a dirt road and we had to make our own camping spot. We hauled the water and took a trowel up the hill for lack of an outhouse. Now it's a city, but that is another story.

I remember learning how to catch my limit of large trout on Twin Lakes from an obvious expert. He was camped near our tent, and he saw my fishing persistence and my trifling results. Every day we would see his long string of huge trout as he packed them in his ice chest. He must have been doing something right. I guess he had compassion for my plight, and I was a nice thirteen year old boy, so he volunteered to take me out on the boat with him.

His tackle was unorthodox, and his bait was a bit different too. He used salmon egg clusters which he had sun dried, but only partially. When they were pasty but nimble they were ready. He broke them into quarter sized clusters. "Small hook, small fish. Big fish need a big hook." he insisted. Well, I was used to using a tiny hook, and only one salmon egg at a time. He used a fly pole and tapered fly line for tackle. Everyone else had fiberglass rods, conventional reels and nylon filament line. He would take his large hook and wrap it with one of these clusters, rolling it in his palms like mom forming a dough ball for cookies. There was a swivel and leader at the end of his fly line, but no sinkers. The weight of this salmon cluster was sufficient for his purpose.

We rowed out to a certain spot on the lake that he knew to be a "hole" where the big fish used to hang out. He would roll out a cast for several feet, and then let the bait slowly sink toward the lake bottom. Then, holding the pole upside down (the loops were looking down at the water), he would ever so slowly draw in the line a foot at a time and stop. After doing this twice with no results he pontificated, "There aren't any fish here today."

We moved to another favorite hole of his. He repeated his routine, only this time he got a strike. After a second strike, he jerked on the line and hooked a mammoth trout. "Okay, let down the anchor. The fish are here." he announced with proven authority. When I tried his method, even though I didn't execute with the same degree of finesse, I caught several large trout. It was amazing how I could actually feel the fish bumping my bait. Experience would tell the fisherman the difference between a bump and a bite. When it was a bona fide bite, he would jerk the line and hook the fish's mouth. I would like to try that again someday, but as long as I am dreaming I would make it genuine fly fishing for my fantasy.