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Friday, December 31, 2010

Belated Birthday Celebration

MK, one of the ladies from our Weight Watchers group, felt sorry for me after reading yesterday's post about my husband's being too ill to do anything for me for my birthday. So she called Sandra and suggested that we do what weight watchers do best...go out to eat.

(That reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, which I first heard from Sandra's Hubby, although it probably didn't originate with him: "You can't maintain a body like this if you only eat when you're hungry." It's become a motto for me.)

Yesterday didn't fit into everyone's schedule, so the date was set for today. I left my poor, sick husband at home and went with three friends to a unique, Victorianesque tea house for my belated birthday celebration.

This little tea house is one of those places that make dining a "special" experience. As you might expect from a tea house, they offer more varieties of tea than I ever knew existed. The hot tea is served in individual tea pots, with tea cozies that go over them to keep the tea hot. Iced tea is also available for those of us who prefer it that way.

Several varieties of sandwiches are offered and come with choice of soup or one of a nice selection of salads. At the end of the meal, each diner is presented with a small plate of desserts, which today included a scone, a shortbread cookie, a snickerdoodle cookie, a biscotti, and a butterscotch cookie bar, all made right there in the restaurant.

There's nothing like good friends and good food to make any celebration special.
 
Clockwise from left: Sandra, MK, SK, and Linda
Of course, there's something to be said for a homemade chocolate sheet cake, too.

Thank you, ladies, for the gift of friendship. And an extra thanks to Sandra for the cake.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Once Upon a Birthday

Today is my birthday. My 66th birthday, to be precise. Apparently, 66th birthdays are earth-shaking events, because I was awakened this morning by a shaking bed and rattling windows as Indiana was experiencing a 4.2 earthquake, a rare occurrence in this part of the country.

That's probably the most excitement there will be on this birthday, because my dear husband has been sick since Christmas and isn't going to be able to take me out for dinner or even muster up much enthusiasm for the occasion.

So I'll have to let a memory of a past birthday celebration suffice for this one.

Four years ago, my good friend, Sandra, was being visited by two of her granddaughters from Chicago, CoCo and LuLu. They put together a little surprise for me, with Sandra baking my favorite, a chocolate sheet cake, and with CoCo and LuLu adding their flair to the decoration on the cake.



In addition, Sandra, CoCo, and LuLu had gone shopping and picked out the perfect gifts for me. Each of them had selected a set of designer paper plates and matching napkins, knowing that that is the tableware of choice in our house.

And then the gifts were delivered in a personally decorated shopping bag. CoCo decorated one side of the bag.


And LuLu decorated the other side.

I saved the bag. It may show up at one or both of their weddings some day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Christmas Suit

I know that there are those who love large cities and huge department stores. I'm not one of them. Shopping is not my favorite thing to do anyway, and large stores just make the experience even more traumatic.

Years ago, there was a small family-owned department store that we used to frequent in a neighboring small town. They had very nice clothes for reasonable prices, and it was a relaxing place to shop. One weekend each summer they would erect a large tent in their parking lot and have a tent sale.

During one such sale, Doug was in the market for a new suit; and we were browsing through the choices under the tent. It's hard to get Doug to buy clothes for himself. He says things like, "I have enough shirts." So I was pleased to see him admiring one of the suits. He took it off the rack and turned it every which way, admiring the color, the fabric, the cut, etc. But he just couldn't bring himself to take the plunge and go to the cash register with it. (Have I mentioned that Doug's self-proclaimed nickname is TW...for Tightwad?)

We continued browsing through the racks until Doug eventually found another suit that he decided to try on. When he took that suit into the store to try it on in one of the dressing rooms, I ran back to the rack where the first suit was that he had been admiring. I grabbed the suit off the rack and ran inside the store to the cash register. I handed it to the cashier, hastily explaining that I wanted to buy it as a surprise for my husband, who was in the dressing room. Fearing that Doug would come out of the dressing room at any moment, I told her I would stop in later in the week to pay for it. I'm not even sure I had time to give her my name, but she tucked the suit out of sight and trusted me to return with payment the following week.

When Doug emerged from the dressing room, he said he liked the suit he had tried on but that he thought he liked the first one better and would like to try on that one. We went back to the rack where the first suit had been and, lo and behold, it was gone. Believing that someone had beaten him to it, he wound up buying the second suit.

This little store also provided alterations, so measurements were taken and an appointment was made to pick up the suit after the alterations had been completed.

That next week, I went back to the store, paid for the surprise suit, and asked them to alter that suit using the same measurements they had taken with the other one.

I decided to make the suit a Christmas surprise for Doug that year. Over the five or six months between the tent sale and Christmas, Doug mentioned several times how much he regretted not buying that suit when he had the chance. Every time he would say something about "the one that got away" I would tingle with the anticipation of surprising him with it on Christmas.

When Christmas came, the surprise was complete. He recognized the suit immediately upon unwrapping it and couldn't believe I had pulled it off, complete with alterations. And, lest you think he was pretending, there's not a deceitful bone in that boy's body.

But the point of this post is that something like this just couldn't have happened in anything other than a small-town, family-owned store. They didn't know me from Adam, but they happily conspired with me to surprise my husband.

It's hard for little stores like that to survive in this day of large chain stores, and this store was no exception. It fell victim to the competition and closed several years ago. But, thanks to the episode with the Christmas suit, they'll always occupy a place of fondness in my heart.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Our Christmas

We drove about an hour and a half to spend the afternoon with Doug's step-family, not far over the border into Michigan. Shortly after crossing the state line, we saw a large bird in a snow-covered cornfield. Originally thinking that it was a large turkey, we drove on by. As we did, though, Doug realized that it wasn't a turkey, but a golden eagle. That's a pretty rare sight in these parts, so we circled back to get another look.

The bird was still on the ground when we drove by, and we were able to confirm Doug's identification of it. We turned around again, heading back in our original direction, and I was ready with the camera. But two other vehicles had spotted our friend in the field and had pulled over to watch. All that attention made the bird nervous, and he flew to a distant tree before I could get close enough to get a photo. Of course, I still tried, but the image wasn't good enough to share here.

The tradition at the gathering with Doug's step-family is to have a pot luck meal, followed by a ten-dollar gift exchange...the kind where numbers are drawn to establish the order in which each person selects a gift; then each subsequent person may choose to take a gift from the pile or to "steal" a gift that another person has previously opened. It's entertaining, not expensive, and makes the fun of the gift exchange last longer.

Doug's brother lives about a half-hour away from where the step-family gathers, but he doesn't attend that function. So we went to pick him up and take him out for supper at a Chinese buffet, which was just about the only place in his town that was open on Christmas Day.

After our meal and enjoyable conversation, we went with him for a drive around the area to look at Christmas lights. Doug's brother told us of a place he had heard about, way out in the country, that had a fantastic light display, so that's where we went first. Here are a few images of that:





Then, we drove through a neighborhood that goes all out with Christmas decorations. This is one house from that neighborhood:


The last stop was at a house that has "dancing" lights, complete with music that can be listened to on a special FM station on a car radio. There was even video showing on the garage door that went along with whatever song was playing at the time. Here are a couple of images from that house:
 




We thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas Day and hope all of you did, too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

On Christmas Eve afternoon, we went with some friends to their church for a Christmas Eve program. This nativity scene was set up in the church's baptistery.



Then, on the way home, we stopped in a small town for gasoline, and this pretty church was right across the street.


To all of you who have become blogging friends and who have supported me in this venture into the blogging world...my sincere wishes to you and yours for a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Martha Doesn't Live Here

Once, when Doug and I were browsing through a store, we saw a plaque that said, "Martha doesn't live here." We looked at each other and burst out laughing because nothing could be more true of our house. Whether the saying refers, as we originally thought, to the Martha of the Bible, who was busy with much serving, or, as occurred to us later, to Martha Stewart, it is still a motto that befits our home.

It's not my mother's fault that I'm not a cook. She wanted to teach me, but I had no interest. She used to say to me, "What are you going to do when you get married?" I replied that I'd learn to cook when I got engaged. Well, I had many years of singleness before Doug came along. By then, it was just easier to tell him that I didn't cook than it was to learn the art.

There are some dishes that I can make and make well. But my kitchen looks like a disaster zone by the time I'm finished.

I did a little baking today. I made half a chocolate sheet cake to take to a friend's house tomorrow, to celebrate his birthday. And I made a batch of mint brownies to take to a family gathering on Christmas Day. Those are two of my specialties, but even those don't always go well.

A few years ago, I decided to bake some mint brownies to take to Sandra's daughter, Jenny, in Chicago. We were traveling there with Sandra and her Hubby, partly to see Jenny's daughter, CoCo, play the skunk in a presentation of Snow White, and partly to celebrate Jenny's and CoCo's birthdays.

Jenny loves the brownies, so I wanted to give them to her as a birthday gift. Wanting to take them in a pan that Jenny wouldn't need to worry about returning, I used a Gladware baking pan. You have to put it on a cookie sheet while baking, and I did that. But the cookie sheet buckled, causing a good portion of the brownie batter to gather in one corner of the pan, while it got pretty shallow and crusty in the other end...sort of a mountain and valley effect.

I considered starting over again but decided that Jenny would get a laugh out of it. So I got ready to make the frosting. I pulled the sifter out of the cupboard and proceeded to put the powdered sugar into it, only to realize that the sifter was upside down! What a mess. But I plowed ahead and got the brownies frosted and glazed.

Later, I tried to put the lid on the pan of brownies, but the lid wasn't high enough. It touched the glaze, which, of course, stuck to it. So I discarded the lid and just covered the brownies with foil, using toothpicks to hold the foil away from the glaze, then wrapped the Gladware pan as best I could in gift wrap. Then I made a card for Jenny and included a note of explanation about the strange-looking gift.

I don't remember everything I said in the card, but I do remember telling her that, all in all, it was a pretty typical day in my kitchen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Our Christmas Gift to Each Other...Not Romantic, but Practical

Doug and I have been unsuccessfully fighting the battle of the bulge, pretty much since retirement. We've talked about joining a gym, but it would be about a 25-minute drive from where we live; and we're not sure we would be committed enough to stick with it.

We did go so far as to visit several fitness centers and get information about membership rates and available exercise equipment. We pretty much even settled on the one that we would join. But we never took that final step of signing the papers and paying the fee.

Doug was intrigued by the television commercials for the Total Gym, promoted by Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley, so I started doing some research on it.

Before making any major purchase, I like to read the user reviews on Amazon. When I typed "Total Gym" into the search box on Amazon, the first item that popped up was the Weider Total Body Works 5000 Gym. It was hundreds of dollars cheaper than the Total Gym, and the reviews were very positive.

So we figured, for that price, we couldn't go wrong to try it.

We've been using it for about a week and a half now, and it seems perfect for us. We're so out of shape that 10 minutes on it is about all we can handle, but that's 10 minutes worth of exercise that we weren't getting before.


The Weider Total Body Works 5000 Gym came with a poster, illustrating 29 of the possible exercises one could do on the equipment and providing information as to which muscles the particular exercise would benefit. But we find ourselves experimenting and inventing some of our own exercises. It's actually kind of fun, in spite of being hard work. And it's so handy to just walk into the den and work out for a few minutes.

We decided that the Gym would be our Christmas gift to each other. Hopefully, it will help us to become healthier in the new year.

At least, so far, there are no clothes hanging on it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Just for Laughs

I just thought I'd share a little story with you today that might bring a smile to your face. It did to mine.
As a bagpiper, Scotty played many gigs. Recently he was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man, who had no family or friends. The service was to be at a paupers' cemetery in the Kentucky back-country.

As Scotty was not familiar with the backwoods, he got lost; and, being a typical man, he didn't stop for directions. He finally arrived an hour late and saw that the funeral guy had evidently gone, and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew left, and they were eating lunch.

Scotty felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. He went to the side of the grave and looked down, and the vault lid was already in place. He didn't know what else to do, so he started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. Scotty played out his heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. He played like he'd never played before for this homeless man. And as he played "Amazing Grace," the workers began to weep. They wept; Scotty wept; they all wept together.

When Scotty finished, he packed up his bagpipes and started for his car. Though his head hung low, his heart was full.

As he was opening the door to his car, Scotty heard one of the workers say, "Man...I've never seen anything like that before; and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years."

Thanks to Hilary at The Smitten Image for including this post as a Post of the Week.

POTW-celery[1]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Pleasant Interruption...and Dominoes

Yesterday evening, as I was going to the telephone to call in an order for carry-out from our local restaurant (the only one in our small town), I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a car pulling into the driveway. It was another couple who live nearby and who were on their way to the local restaurant for supper. They wondered if we'd like to join them.

The timing was perfect so, of course, we did. We had a good time of eating and visiting at the restaurant, even being joined by another friend (who is also our pastor) who was eating alone because his wife wasn't feeling well.

The restaurant wasn't overly busy, so the five us of lingered at the table, visiting for awhile. Then the couple who had invited us to join them for supper spent a few hours at our house, playing a rousing game of dominoes.

Dominoes are fun, no matter whose rules you follow, but isn't it amazing how many different sets of rules there seem to be? Every single time we have played the game with someone new, we have been introduced to some variation in the rules.

When six of us attended a Word of Life conference in Schroon Lake, New York last year, we played dominoes together in the common area during breaks in the conference. It never failed but that other conference attendees would stop by our table to watch for awhile and offer opinions on the rules that they thought we should be following.

As I wrote that, I couldn't help but think how something similar plays out in our daily Christian life. We all read the same "Rule Book;" but, somehow, we come up with a lot of variations on how the rules should be applied.

As someone has said about the Christian walk, though, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Matthew 6:33 says it best: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Commissary

Sandra, of Add Humor and Faith...Mix Well, and I have been friends for more years than either of us like to think about. We worked for the same large manufacturing company for most of our working lives, and were almost daily lunch partners during the last 15 or more of those years.

When Sandra retired from that company, a couple of years after my retirement, she became the Matron at our County Jail and invited me to take a part-time job working for her in the Jail's Commissary. After over a year of enjoying doing nothing, I was ready to try something on a part-time basis, so I said "yes."

Sandra was officially in charge of the Commissary, but Marie, who had been there many years before we new kids arrived on the block, was the one who had to break us in. And she was good at it...calm, patient, and an excellent trainer.

The Commissary stocked products like snacks and hygiene items that the inmates could order. The Confinement Officers collected the order forms from the inmates and brought them to us in the Commissary. The Commissary "Auditors" audited the forms to make sure that the inmates had followed all the rules of ordering...not too many items and not more than the maximum dollar amount. The Auditors then deducted the the order totals from the inmates' accounts before passing the order forms on to the "Fillers."

The Fillers went through the shelves of products, filling a paper bag with the items the inmate had ordered; stapled the order form to the outside of the bag; and placed it into a cart for that inmate's cell block. The Confinement Officers distributed the bags to the inmates that evening.

The Auditors usually started auditing at 6:00 a.m., with the Fillers arriving an hour later. By then, the Auditors (hopefully) had enough of a head start that the Fillers wouldn't have to stand around waiting for orders to fill. It was a pretty fast-paced and well-synchronized operation. Most days.

I started out as a Filler, but I never was very good at it. It's not as easy as it sounds, and we had a couple of women who had been doing it for years and who were very fast and efficient at it. I felt almost in the way when I worked with them. I eventually worked my way into an auditing job, only filling on an as-needed basis. And they almost never needed MY help.

Normally, we had three Auditors and four Fillers. On occasion, when we anticipated an extra heavy day of orders or when we knew we were going to be short handed, the Auditors would go in early to get as much done as possible before the Fillers arrived.

On one April morning, Sandra was scheduled to be off; and Beckie, our backup Auditor, had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. That just left Marie and me to get enough orders audited so that the Fillers would have work to do when they arrived. So we agreed to go in extra early that morning.

As I was headed out the door at 4:00 a.m., the phone rang. I picked it up and heard Marie's sweet, unexcited voice saying, "Do you think you could handle things by yourself today?"

I said, with a confidence I didn't feel, "Probably. What's going on?"

Well, Marie had stopped at the bank's night drop on her way in to work. When she got out of the car to drop her mortgage payment into the slot, the car began to roll. Afraid that it would roll into traffic and cause an accident, she had chased it down and tried to reach in and grab the steering wheel or the gear shift lever. But, in the process, she had fallen; and the car had run over her legs. She had managed to get up and get into the vehicle, which had stopped when it came to an incline, and was then driving herself back home. She had called her husband, and he was going to take her to the hospital to get checked out.

So I assured Marie that we would manage without her, wished her well, and hurried off to the Jail to do my best. I knew that, if I had called Sandra, she would have delayed her planned trip to visit her son and family in North Carolina; and I didn't want her to do that. When she called in, as she usually did when she knew we were limping along without her, I made sure she was far enough out of town that coming back wasn't an option before I told her what had happened.

Every member of the Commissary team pulled together that day and managed to get all the orders filled. None of the others knew how to take the inmates' money off their accounts, but one of them sat down at Marie's desk and audited the order forms, which took a huge load off me. All I had to do was the computer side of it, taking the money off the inmates' accounts. We weren't able to stay ahead of the fillers, but they busied themselves with restocking and other jobs whenever they got ahead of us. It was truly a team effort.

It was a privilege to work with that group of women who made up the Commissary team. They were hard workers, every one; and they had fun while they were at it.

Marie's poor legs were badly bruised, but nothing was broken. That was a miracle for which we were all grateful. We managed without her, but we surely were happy to see her when she returned to work.

Monday, December 13, 2010

One of My Favorite Reads

Years ago, I picked up a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo somewhere, read it, and fell in love with the story. The plot is so detailed and intricate, the characters so well crafted, the relationships so well developed. The book became a favorite and one that I read from time to time on a regular basis.

Once, when browsing through books at a bookstore, I found another copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. Well, of course, one can never have too many copies of a favorite book; so I bought this newer copy.

Later, upon reading the new copy, I realized that there were parts missing in this book. Some of my favorite characters didn't even make an appearance in this one.

I took the old book off the shelf, began comparing the two volumes, and found that they were both abridged copies, with the editing having been done by different individuals. Well, now my curiosity was piqued. I had to know what was in the original that wasn't in either of the two copies now on my bookshelf.

There is a remarkable used-book store in our area. I had discovered it a few years earlier, on the recommendation of a friend. It's in an older section of town, in an old building, its entrance just next to the sidewalk.

Upon entering the store for the first time, I was a bit in awe of the sight that greeted me. This was a BOOK store. There was no café or coffee shop or overstuffed sofas in a quiet reading area. There were just books, thousands of them. The shelves were from floor to ceiling, with just enough space for a person to walk between them. And that was just on the main floor; there were more books in the basement.

There was a tiny space set aside in a front corner of the store, where a cash register resided. There was no computer in sight.

A young man approached me on that first visit to the store, asking if he could be of assistance. I'm ashamed to say that I took in his outward appearance, which included long hair and tattoos, and concluded that he had probably never even read a book. But I made a couple of inquiries, which he answered promptly and with a knowledge of the store's inventory that impressed me mightily.

So, when I decided that I needed an unabridged copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, I headed for that wonderful old used-book store. I was advised that they didn't have a copy in stock but that they would take my name and contact information and would get in touch if one came in. They wrote my name and my request on a little piece of paper (remember, no computer), and I left the store, never expecting to hear from them.

About a year later, the call came. They had just gotten in an unabridged copy of The Count of Monte Cristo and wondered if I still wanted it. I was amazed to hear from them and asked the price. "Eight-fifty" was the reply. Afraid that it might be a collector's edition priced at eight hundred fifty dollars, I said, "Is that eight dollars and fifty cents?" It was.

When I picked up the book a day or two later, I was surprised at the thickness of the volume and its relatively good condition. I commented about the good condition, and the bookstore owner wryly responded that it had probably never been read all the way through. I assured him that it would be now.



Unabridged version on left. The smaller book on the right is the one that originally got me hooked on the story.


This is the final page of the unabridged version, showing the number of pages in the book.
So, as soon as I finish my rereading of Evangeline, I'm going to have to renew my acquaintance with my old friend, The Count of Monte Cristo.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Legend on the Trail

Most people who regularly visit the Smokies have heard of Margaret Stevenson. To those who hike the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that name is spoken with some awe. When we first heard of her, she was described to us as a woman who, in her seventies, hiked up to Mount LeConte several times a week.

Now, we had hiked to Mount LeConte on our first trip to the Smokies. We thought it was going to kill us. And we were in our forties!

Margaret Stevenson may not have been widely known outside of the area of the Smoky Mountains, but she was a bit of a legend among those who enjoy hiking the trails of the national park.

She is reported to be the the first woman to hike all 900 miles of trails in the national park, which she completed in 1976. It is also said that she logged 3,000 miles a year during her 40 years of hiking in the Smokies...more miles than she put on her car.

Margaret hiked to Mount LeConte a total of 718 times. Most often, she hiked to LeConte using the Alum Cave Bluff trail which, although the shortest route, is also the steepest, gaining about 2500 feet of elevation in the five and a half miles to the summit. Most of her trips to Mount LeConte were day hikes, making an 11-mile round trip for her on a single day. Sometimes, though, she did stay overnight at LeConte Lodge, hiking back down the next day.

Doug and I were privileged to meet Margaret Stevenson on the Alum Cave Bluff trail on September 5, 1994. As we were panting and struggling on our way up to Mount LeConte, Margaret, having hiked up that morning, was already on her way back down.

Other hikers that we had met on the trail had told us that Margaret was on her way down, so Doug had the video camera ready when she came into view. I apologize in advance for the poor quality of the video but hope that you can see a little of the amazing individual that was Margaret Stevenson.

Her first words to us were to identify her walking partner as her "Indian guide." We didn't catch that on this video clip, but I wanted to mention it because she refers to it again later in the clip.


As she began to walk away, she pooh-poohed her accomplishment of (then) 644 trips to Mount LeConte, implying that it was no big deal since she had started when she was a young woman of 48. I was 49 at the time and not feeling so young.

Margaret's 718th and last trip to Mount LeConte was on May 21, 1997, when she was just shy of her 85th birthday. Deciding that the downhill portion of the Alum Cave Bluff trail had become too risky for her, she opted to limit her future hikes to more level ground, continuing to walk six to eight miles a day.

Margaret Stevenson died in 2006, at the age of 94. She is missed, not only by her friends and family, but by all who ever met her on the trails of the Smoky Mountains.

Thanks to Hilary at The Smitten Image for including this post as a Post of the Week.

POTW-celery[1]


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Evangeline

I grew up with a love of reading. Often, my favorite gift for birthday or Christmas was a book...most often, a book about horses. During summer vacations from school, I would walk to the library and check out the maximum number of books allowed...eight at that time...with a return date two weeks out. My dad once made me take back all but two of the books, saying that I needed to spend some time outdoors during my summer break.

I credit my mother with building that love of reading in me, starting with reading stories to me before I could read on my own. I still remember a story that Mom used to read to me about a man who had a blanket that was too short for his bed. Since his feet were sticking out, he decided to cut some fabric from the top of the blanket and sew it onto the bottom. Even at my young age, I knew that wasn't going to work.

And then there was the story of the Ugly Duckling. I always identified with that one. And the one about the dog that had a bone in his mouth when he went to the pond to get a drink. When he looked into the water, he saw another dog with a bigger bone. So he dropped his bone into the water with the intent of taking the bigger bone away from the other dog, which, of course, was actually his own reflection.

As I write this, I'm remembering so many of those old fairy tales and am getting the urge to go out and buy a set of them for myself. Is that a sign of senility? Oh dear. I hope not. There are enough signs of that already.

With all my reading, though, I never really "got" poetry.

But then this lovely little book came into my life. I think it had belonged to my mother. It's a book of poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. One cold wintry day, I picked this book off the shelf and read Evangeline. It was beautiful. A compelling story of enduring love and heartache.


There is no dust jacket on this book. That beautiful design on the cover is...well...on the cover.



Inside is an inscription which says, "Merry Christmas...1903...Herbert Campbell. I don't know who Herbert Campbell was or to whom the book was given on that Christmas 107 years ago. My mother wouldn't have been born yet at that time, so maybe the book had belonged to her mother. I'll probably never know; but, for now, the book is a treasure on my bookshelf.

I still can't say that I love or understand poetry, but I do love Evangeline. I think it's time to read it again.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Christmas

As we approach the Christmas holidays, it just seems appropriate to take some time to reflect on what we celebrate and why.

The event that we celebrate each December actually has its beginnings in the first book of the Bible. That's where we learn of the creation of the earth and everything in it. It's also where we learn of the intimate relationship that existed between the first couple and the God Who created them. That is, the relationship was close until that first couple did the one thing that God had commanded them not to do.

With their disobedience, death entered the world...and not just physical death, but, even more significantly, spiritual death. Fellowship with their Creator was broken. But, fortunately for them, and for all of us who would come after them, God had already anticipated their (and our) failure and had put in place a plan to redeem men and women from the penalty of their sins and to restore them to fellowship with Him. That plan would involve God Himself coming to earth in the form of a man and offering His life as the only sacrifice that could pay every person's sin debt.

As an early step in that plan, God chose Abraham and called him to leave his home and family and to travel to a land that God would give to him and to his descendants. God entered into a covenant with Abraham, promising that, from him, would come a great nation and that, through him, all the nations of the world would be blessed.

During the centuries that followed, prophets of the Lord gave many prophecies concerning the One who would come to redeem mankind.
  • He would be a descendant of Abraham. 
  • He would be from the tribe of Judah. 
  • He would be a descendant of David. 
  • He would be a prophet like Moses. 
  • He would be the Son of God. 
  • He would be born of a virgin. 
  • He would come at a specific time. 
  • He would be born in Bethlehem. 
  • He would restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, etc. 
  • People would hear and not believe. 
  • He would be rejected.
  • He would enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey.
  • He would be betrayed by a friend.
  • He would be sold for 30 pieces of silver. 
  • He would be accused by false witnesses. 
  • He would be silent in front of His accusers.
  • He would be forsaken by His disciples.
  • He would be crucified with criminals and buried in a rich man's tomb.
  • His bones would not be broken.
  • Men would gamble for His clothing.
  • He would be raised from the dead. 
All these prophecies and many more were given hundreds of years before Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary in the town of Bethlehem; and all were fulfilled in His life and death. Other prophecies, those concerning His imminent return, are yet to be fulfilled.

God's requirement for entrance into Heaven is sinless perfection. He established the law by which we were to live, and He established the penalty of an eternity of torment and separation from God for any who did not keep that law perfectly. Then, because He knew we would fail, He personally came to pay that penalty and to offer forgiveness and eternal life with Him to any who would put their faith in Jesus, who was God in human flesh, come to earth to redeem sinners.

There has never been a human who lived who has achieved God's standard of perfection, and there never will be. Since we all fall short of God's standard, there is not one person who can earn his way into Heaven.

But God has provided a way for us. One way. The only way. And He provided it at great cost to Himself.

God is just and must punish sin. But He is merciful and doesn't want to punish us. So He came to earth in the form of a man, whom we know as Jesus. Jesus alone lived a life of sinless perfection. And then Jesus laid down that life, offering Himself as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for the sins of the world. 

Jesus' life was not TAKEN that day that He died on the cross. It was GIVEN. Only a sinless sacrifice could pay for the sins of the world, and only Jesus was totally without sin, either in nature or in deed.

He paid for our sins that day...one time for all. It was a demonstration of both His justice and His love. His justice demanded that sin be punished; and, in His love, He took our punishment for us.

Now we have a choice. We can choose to continue trusting in our own good works to get us into Heaven. Or we can choose to trust in Jesus and in what He has done to purchase our salvation for us. There will be no boasting in Heaven. Not one person will be able to pat himself on the back and say, "Look what I've done." The only people in Heaven will be falling at the Savior's feet, thanking Him for what HE has done. Heaven can only be received as a free gift. It cannot be earned.

If there was any other way for sinners to be saved, why would Jesus have come?

We don't really know the date that Jesus entered our world. We traditionally set aside the 25th of December to celebrate the event. But the date is not important. What is important is that He came and that He offers us the gift of eternal life, freely, which is really the only way a gift can be received.

If you have never placed your trust in Jesus for your eternal salvation, I pray that you will do so today. Just tell God, in prayer, that you realize that you are a sinner and that you cannot save yourself, that you believe that Jesus died to pay your sin penalty, and that it's your desire that He come into your life and help you to be the person He created you to be.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Waterfalls

Doug and I have a fascination with waterfalls and seek them out whenever we have the opportunity. Here are a few that we have enjoyed.

Place of a Thousand Drips - Smoky Mountains

Indian Flats Falls-Smoky Mountains

Abrams Falls-Smoky Mountains

Laurel Falls - Smoky Mountains

Grotto Falls - Smoky Mountains
North Clear Creek Falls - On the "Silver Thread" scenic byway from Alamosa, Colorado to Montrose, Colorado

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Trails

Doug's and my first visit to the Smokies was Memorial Day weekend, 1990. We were in our mid-forties and had never done any hiking. After hiking to Mount LeConte on that trip, we swore we'd never hike again. But we had fallen in love with the Smokies, and the best way to experience them is to hike the trails. So we went out and bought some hiking boots and have been enjoying the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about twice a year ever since. Here are a few of them.

Abrams Falls Trail

Little River Trail

Middle Prong Trail

Not sure, but I think this may have been the Rainbow Falls trail to Mount LeConte.

Alum Cave Bluffs Trail

Porters Creek Trail

Porters Creek Trail

Little River Trail
We're finding some of the steeper trails a little more of a challenge these days, but there are still plenty of opportunities for getting out into the park and enjoying its trails, rivers, waterfalls, and wildlife.
 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Light and Shadow

I had to have a tooth filled today. Apparently there was one that hadn't yet had a filling. Anyway, I was just getting my camera out to take a photo of the way the light coming through the venetian blinds in the waiting room was making a pattern of stripes on this black lampshade, when the doctor's assistant came to call me back to the torture treatment room. I was pleased to find the same performance of light and shadow still going on after my appointment and was able to get this photo before leaving.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

John and the Peanut Butter

My former boss, John, the one mentioned in the previous post, was an unwilling transfer to our fair state. Having been given the choice between unemployment or relocation, he had moved here from Minneapolis and lived for the day when he could return to that city. He was always quick to express his dislike of our city and his longing for his former place of residence, which didn't really enhance our relationship, since it was my hometown he was criticizing. He would even complain that our winters were colder than those he had known in Minneapolis.

Looking back, though, I kind of wish I'd made the effort to get to know him better. He had a dry wit, an example of which is reflected in Friday's post. And then there was this story that he told me once, after a business trip to another company location.

John's daughter, son-in-law, and two-year-old granddaughter lived near enough to the company location that John was visiting that he could stay overnight with them. He had to be downtown early that next morning, so he had gotten up and fixed himself a cup of coffee and some toast with peanut butter on it.

His little granddaughter, still in the diaper she had worn overnight, had apparently heard her grandpa out in the kitchen and had come out to see him. He held her and played with her a little bit before tucking her back into her bed and leaving for his meeting.

As he was getting into his car, he noticed a little peanut butter on the back of his hand. He didn't want to take the time to go back in and wash it off, so he licked it off. That's when he realized that it wasn't peanut butter.

To this day, it amazes me that John told that story on himself.

He eventually was able to retire and move back to his beloved Minneapolis. I'll bet he's never licked a foreign substance off his hand again.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Boss Quip

I'm not proud of the fact that I used to be chronically tardy at work. I always put in my full eight hours; I just had trouble arriving on time. One day, when I managed to show up right on time, my boss looked at me, then at the clock, then back at me, and said: "What's the matter? Couldn't you sleep?"

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Sandhill Crane Thanksgiving

We went to visit Doug's brother for Thanksgiving, in a small town about an hour away from where we live. After going out to a restaurant for our Thanksgiving dinner, we went for a drive and spotted these Sandhill Cranes in a field. They were probably 300 yards off the road, so it was a test of my camera's zoom to get even this good of a snapshot of them. It was also a rainy and low-light situation, but it was an unusual enough sight for us that I thought even a fuzzy photo was better than none.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another Installment of "It Gets Worse"

You'll remember our home-bound friend from this recent post. Well, he shared another story with me today that was just too fun to keep to myself.

Our friend and his wife live in an apartment complex for seniors that is one of many such complexes in our area, all of which are owned and operated by the same landlord. These apartment complexes are all very similar in appearance, all units painted the same color and with the same basic construction and layout. In the community where our friends live, there are two such complexes within an easy walk of each other.

Today, while his wife was away from the apartment for a couple of hours, our friend was relaxing in his recliner, wearing only his shorts and a tee shirt, when he glimpsed a car pulling into his driveway. Then the doorbell rang. Then an elderly woman began pounding on the front window, then back to the door, ringing the doorbell and kicking the door.

Our friend's physical limitations make it difficult for him to move around in the apartment any more than necessary; and, besides, he really wasn't dressed for company. So he did nothing at first. But, after about 15 minutes of the pounding, ringing, and kicking, he decided "What you see is what you get" and opened the door.

The woman, apparently undaunted by our friend's attire, demanded to know where "Flora" was, and she wouldn't believe him when he told her that there was no Flora in that apartment. He finally got it through to her that perhaps she would find Flora in the other set of look-alike apartments.

Afterward, our friend told his wife that what he should have said to his visitor was, "Don't worry; it gets worse."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New York in October, 2009

In October of 2009, Doug and I attended a Bible conference at the Word of Life Conference Center in Schroon Lake, New York, with two other couples from our area. Here are a few photos from that trip.

The six of us playing dominoes during a break in the conference. And let me say that the dominoes with numbers, instead of dots, are much easier to work with. I highly recommend them. And be prepared to play by the rules of the person with the strongest personality because it just seems that no two people understand the rules in the same way. I'm just sayin'...

The six of us all had plans for something we wanted to do after the conference, so the three couples had each driven separately. Since Doug and I had never been to New York before, we wanted to see a little more of the area before heading for home. So we took a drive up to Lake Placid, which had been the site of the Winter Olympic games in 1932 and again in 1980. It's a gorgeous area.

On the drive up to Lake Placid

Another scene on the drive to Lake Placid

A ski slope in Lake Placid

Fungus on a log

How many beaver lodges have you seen with a satellite dish?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Some Updates and More Smokies Photos

Updates:

Doug is doing better, following his nose surgery on Friday and two subsequent trips to the emergency room. He slept well last night, and a good rest always helps things look a little brighter.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the pending closing of our church at the end of this year. Well, thankfully, we've made some changes that have encouraged our pastor to continue the work. Pastor Paul loves the teaching and preaching and song leading, but all the extra responsibilities were just wearing him down, especially when added to his full-time job, which pays the bills for his family. Several people have since come forward to shoulder some of the burdens that Pastor Paul had been bearing alone, and he has happily agreed to postpone his retirement.

Smokies Photos:

These photos were taken in October of 2003, before a digital camera had entered my life. The camera was a good SLR, but film has a hard time competing with digital...at least, in my experience.




This rock formation is known as "Rock House"


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